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Confederations Cup Preview: Egypt

This year's FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa will be a chance for six-time African champions Egypt to prove wrong those critics who say the Pharaohs suffer massive stage-fright at major international tournaments.
 
There was not much for Egypt to cheer at their previous outing in this competition - they crashed out in the group stage at the 1999 edition in Mexico. They drew with both hosts Mexico and Bolivia only to be thrashed 5-1 by Saudi Arabia and finish bottom of the group.  
 
Coach Hassan Shehata has promised to make up for this failure by getting his team to the last four, that would mean coming out of the tough Group B, which contains Brazil, Italy and the United States of America.
 
The best African performance at this tournament was achieved by Cameroon in 2003, when the Indomitable Lions went all the way to the final. It may be asking too much for Egypt to repeat this feat.
 
How they got there: Africa Nations Cup champions 2008
 
At Ghana, Egypt were far and away the best team on parade, beginning with their 4-2 demolition job on five-time winners Cameroon in their opening Group B match in Kumasi. They easily advanced from the first round group which also included Zambia and Sudan.
 
In the quarter-final, they came up against a game Angolan side but still won 2-1, while in the semi-finals they made a short work of tournament favourites Ivory Coast 4-1 at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi.
 
But for the heroics of Cameroon goalkeeper Carlos Kameni in the final, the Egyptians would have won by a more comfortable 1-0 scoreline they achieved. Mohamed Zidan pressured defender Rigobert Song, whose mistake let in Mohamed Aboutrika to slide the ball home for the only goal of the championship game.
 
Coach: Hassan Shehata
 
The former Zamalek star striker guided Egypt to win the 2006 Nations Cup on home soil and successfully defended the title in Ghana two years on to show that this was no fluke. 'Master', as he is known by his adoring fans, is a no-nonsense coach, who has over time made it very clear to both his players and the critical local press that he is the man in charge. He has done so well that he is now been compared with another successful Egypt coach - Mahmoud Al-Gohary.
 
The Team:
 
The Pharaohs are built around players from the country's top two clubs, Al Ahly and Zamalek, past and present.
 
Essam Al-Hadary remains the first choice in goal even though he has been unsettled at his Swiss club FC Sion after an acrimonious departure from Ahly soon after the Nations Cup in Ghana.
 
Ahly defenders Weal Gomaa and Shady Mohamed are the stalwarts in Egypt's back four while in midfield, the African champions flourish on the talent of Middlesbrough's Shawky Mohamed, Ahly's trio of skipper Ahmed Hassan, Mohamed Aboutrika and Mohamed Barakat, not to forget Saudi Arabia-based Hosny Abd-Rabou, who was outstanding at the last Nations Cup.
 
Up-front, England-based strikers Amr Zaki and Ahmed Hossam 'Mido', as well as Emad Moteab and Mohamed Zidan, can be counted on for the goals.
 
Rising Star: Mohamed Zidan
 
The Borussia Dortmund striker was impressive at the last Nations Cup in Ghana with a couple of superbly taken goals at his first-ever major tournament with his native country.
 
Blessed with a blistering pace, powerful shots as well as a clinical finish, 27-year-old Zidan proved to be a scorer as well as a provider of goals in Ghana. He only needs to be more consistent to be regarded as one of the country's great stars, in the class of Mahmoud El-Khateeb, Taher Abouteid and Hossam Hassan.
 
Confederations Cup History:
 

1999 - Group stage
 
Prospects:
 
It would be tough going for any team when you are pitched against world champions Italy and defending Confederations Cup kings Brazil, but Egypt are expected to give as much as they get in South Africa.
 
They are tipped to beat the USA and should get a result, at least, against Italy. All the same, it will be a big achievement to get through to the semi-finals, as predicted by Shehata.
 
Samm Audu, Goal.com