By Sammie Frimpong
Ghana and Egypt go head to head in the second leg of their play-off for World Cup qualification in Cairo on Tuesday. These two heavyweights of the African game have produced a plethora of great players down through the years, which has prompted the obvious question: Who would get into a Ghana-Egypt all-star XI?
Simply selecting a goalkeeper proved something of a headache, with each country presenting a viable candidate for the role. Egypt's Essam El-Hadary racked up a hat-trick of Africa Cup of Nations triumphs while he was the Pharaohs' undisputed No.1. However, Ghana's Richard Kingson gets the nod on account of his exploits at the World Cups of 2006 and 2010.
Kingson is shielded by the vastly experienced and decorated duo of Wael Gomaa and Samuel Osei Kuffour. Gomaa, since his first call-up for Egypt in 2001, has formed an integral part of the national side, winning three continental crowns and being named in the team of the tournament on each occasion. Meanwhile, his central defensive partner, Kuffour, played at every age-group level for Ghana, winning titles with every side before representing his country at senior level with some distinction at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Flanking the pair are arguably the finest full-backs produced by their respective countries: Egypt's Ahmed Fathi and Ghana's Isaac Asare. The former, an incredibly versatile player equally also adept in midfield, slots in on the right-hand side of the defence, with Asare, a three-time Cup of Nations participant renowned for his tactical discipline and fluid movement, on the opposite flank.
Michael Essien and Mohamed Aboutreika provide plenty of energy and creativity in the centre of midfield. Essien's worth to his country has increased exponentially since starring for Ghana at the 2001 Under-20 World Cup and now, after recovering from career-threatening injuries, the 30-year-old has returned to give Ghana's latest World Cup tilt a final push over the line, playing a starring role in last month's mauling of Egypt. Essien's strength would be wonderfully complemented by Aboutreika's finesse. For seasoned observers of African football, Egypt's magical No. 22 needs no introduction. In each of Egypt's Cup of Nations victories in 2006 and 2008 he struck the decisive goals in the final and, with 14, is Egypt's all-time leading scorer in World Cup qualifiers.
The two preferred wingers are held in incredibly high regard within their respective nations. Outside his homeland Ghana, little is known of Mohammed 'Polo' Ahmed, a left winger talented enough to have garnered the nickname of the 'Dribbling Magician'. He didn't lack confidence either, as he famously declared himself an even better footballer than four-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi. Manning the opposing flank is Ahmed Hassan, whose 184 caps for Egypt represents an international record.
Another legendary Egyptian forms one half of our attack. Hossam Hassan, currently in charge of Jordan, is the Pharaohs' record goalscorer, with 68 strikes to his name, and he would form a lethal partnership with Ghanaian Abedi Pele, another statesman of the African game who won a Cup of Nations with The Black Stars and a Champions League with Olympique de Marseille during an illustrious playing career.