As Ghana prepare for the final two-legged battle that would determine whether or not they would qualify for the 2014 World Cup, Goal assesses why Egypt could prove a handfulCOMMENT
By Michael Appiah
Drawing Egypt in the Brazil 2014 qualifying play-offs was hardly ideal for Ghana.
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Had most Ghanaians had their way, they would have done everything possible to avoid the north African giants. Even the president of the Ghana Football Association, Kwesi Nyantakyi, confessed how he had hoped the Black Stars had been paired with any of the unseeded teams aside the Pharaohs.
“I didn’t wish at all to meet Egypt; I had hoped for any other team to be drawn with,” the GFA boss said after the draw. This honest confession should give anyone a very fair idea of the herculean task that lies ahead, as the Black Stars prepare to face the most successful African team at continental level.
Over the past two years, Egyptian football has suffered from bloody political revolutions and unrest, deadly crowd violence at matches, to internal squabbles within the Egyptian FA. These unfortunate incidents obviously have had their toll on the Egyptian national team, as they failed to qualify for two consecutive Africa Cup of Nations and also had their domestic football calendar cancelled in consecutive seasons.
Although the political instability in Egypt seems to be far from over (judging from the fact that some of its home games in the current qualifying campaign had to be played in empty stadiums as a precaution), the country's national team has taken it upon itself to heal the bitterness and unite a country which is so viciously polarized by qualifying for next year’s Fifa World Cup after more than two decades.
Their hunger and motivation to qualify for next year’s showpiece event can therefore not be underestimated in any way. Their ability to win all their matches during the group stage lends credence to how focused they are on their intent to qualify.
The Pharaohs boast a blend of young, energetic and experienced players who are thirsty for glory. The exposure and experience of players like Mohammed Aboutreika, Wael Gomaa, Ahmed Fathy and Mohammed Zidan on the African terrain is quite remarkable. These are players who are not only talented, but know all the ins and outs of African football.
That aside, it also goes without saying that the Egyptians are a very well organized side, both tactically and technically. The degree of cohesion in the Egyptian team is
second to none. They may not boast of world class players like their Ghanaian counterparts, but the level of telepathy that characterizes their style of play is noteworthy. The departure of their incredibly successful coach, Hassan Shehata, who guided them to three consecutive Afcon titles may have dealt the nation a severe blow.
Another significant record that continues to haunt the Black Stars is their inability to qualify for the World Cup at the expense of a team from Africa's north
Apart from his bid to do everything possible to ensure qualification for his team, the 55-year old also has a personal score to settle with the Black Stars after a powerful Asamoah Gyan strike in extra-time sent his Stars and Stripes packing out of the 2010 FIFA World Cup's second round.
Another significant record that continues to haunt the Black Stars is their inability to qualify for the World Cup at the expense of a team from Africa's north. In 1993, the nation suffered a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Desert Foxes of Algeria at a time they required not more than a draw to qualify for the following year's Mundial. A similar fate befell them in 1997, when they came from two goals down to settle for a drawn game against Morocco and subsequently lost the return fixture in Casablanca by a lone goal. These painful memories remain fresh in the minds of all Ghanaian soccer fans who were old enough to observe those duels.
Looking at the depth and the quality in the Ghanaian team, compared to the cohesive nature of the Egyptians, it appears everything would boil down to which team is hungrier for glory.