Egypt U-20 return to South America, a decade after 2001 glory
Hatem Maher, Friday 29 Jul 2011
Ten years ago, Egypt's U-20 team made it to the World Cup semi finals in Argentina. Their ambitions are even higher in the 2011 edition in Colombia. They face Brazil in their opening game on Saturday at 04:00 AM (Egyptian LT)

A confident Egypt U-20 side return to South America with the hope of bringing back glory days, having flattered to deceive since clinching the bronze medal at the 2001 World Cup in Argentina.

Ten years ago, Egypt, led by coach Shawki Gharib, produced a string of impressive displays to finish third after defeating Paraguay 1-0 for the national team's best ever achievement at the senior and youth levels.

Although they were brimming with talent and class, the young Pharaohs could not replicate their success in the following four tournaments.

The disappointments included failing to score a single goal in 2005 and suffering a last-16 exit in 2009 on home soil after a surprise 4-2 defeat by Costa Rica at Cairo Stadium.

However, the Egypt team heads to Colombia for the 2011 edition in an enthusiastic mood, believing they can reach stardom once again and do the unthinkable - winning a trophy lifted by fellow African heavyweights Ghana two years ago at the expense of Brazil.

"We have a squad that resembles that of 2001. We have promising players who can live up to the people's expectations," Egypt coach Diaa El-Sayed told Egyptian reporters before flying to Colombia.

"I want us to go as far as we can, which is winning the cup! Any coach would say the same," the former Ahly assistant coach said in an interview with

"First of all, we have to get through the group stages, but I’ve got a hunch we’re going to make a big impression at this tournament!"

Egypt, who qualified for the World Cup after finishing third in the African Youth Championship, were drawn in Group E along with Brazil and minnows Austria and Panama.

They open their campaign with a tough encounter against four-time winners Brazil in Barranquilla on 29 July.

The last time Egypt met Brazil was on the senior level when the latter claimed a hard-fought 4-3 victory at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup after playmaker Kaka converted a stoppage-time penalty.

"Brazil are a recognized force in world football. I’ll say no more about them," El-Sayed added.

"As for Panama and Austria, I watched some of their recent games and they’re both physical and quick sides. Our priority in the group stage is to collect the points we need to make it through to the Round of 16."

Egypt will take heart from the fact that many of the players who were included in the team's World Cup squad are playing regular first-team football with their respective clubs, including Zamalek duo Mohamed Ibrahim and Omar Gaber, as well as Arab Contractors forward Mohamed Salah.

They rely on Mohamed Hamdi, who plays for Ittihad of Alexandria, as a lone striker. The towering frontman scored twice in the African Youth Championship in South Africa.

Masry goalkeeper Ahmed El Shenawy, chosen by many pundits as the best shot-stopper in the Egyptian Premier League last season, is also an indispensible member of Egypt's squad.

"Our team is full of stars. Aside from Mohamed Ibrahim, there’s Mohamed Salah and Ahmed Hegazi, and our fantastic goalkeeper, Ahmed El Shenawy, who was selected as the best goalkeeper in South Africa," El-Sayed said.

"Moreover, we play as a unit. Our game relies on performing well as a team, so I don’t believe we have any weaknesses in that regard."