Kick-off: Sunday, September 5, 22:30 CET
Cairo International Stadium, Cairo
Success Breeds Success
Egypt enter the 2012 African Nations Cup qualifiers as the team to beat and will be looking to start off their campaign on the right foot against Sierra Leone. Even though they’ve won the continental title six times in their history and three times in a row, the Pharaohs are adamant that they are hungry for more glory.
Although their dominance is hard to question, Hassan Shehata’s men would do well to guard against over-confidence considering that it was a 1-1 draw against Zambia in Cairo on the first day of the World Cup qualifiers which had a big hand in costing them a place in South Africa 2010, a tournament where many pundits believe they would have shone considering their outings against Brazil and Italy in the 2009 Confederations Cup a year before.
While Sierra Leone are certainly not as highly rated as Zambia, the Egyptian defence has shown more frailty than usual in recent years and that is a cause for concern. Even in their recent win against the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Pharaohs allowed their visitors to score three goals. While it’s true that the result was never really in doubt given that they scored six of their own and four in the first half, Shehata will nevertheless be looking for a much more convincing performance from his team on the defensive end and a clean sheet to boot.
Sierra Leone embark on 2012 AFCON qualification as arguably the third best rated team in a group that includes the aforementioned African champions, as well as World Cup hosts and participants South Africa, and Niger. One could say the draw wasn’t very kind to a team that has been struggling to find any sort of consistency over a difficult civil war period during which football was understandably not the country’s top priority.
Much like the West African nation itself, Sierra Leonean football is still rebuilding. The Leone Stars haven’t qualified for the AFCON since the 1996 edition in South Africa where the three points they gathered in a 2-1 group stage win over Burkina Faso weren’t enough to take them to the second round. In their first participation two years earlier in Tunisia, they only managed a solitary point through a goalless draw against Zambia’s Chipolopolo.
The man assigned with the task of getting Sierra Leone to the upcoming edition of the continental competition, Christian Cole, recognises that his side faces an uphill battle considering the quality of their opponents.
“I know it’s a very difficult task to qualify the Leone Stars from a group where you have Egypt, South Africa and Niger. All I’ll say for now is that I like the challenge and I’m going to do my best. It’s a great pleasure to serve my country as coach of Leone Stars,” he said while speaking to the BBC at the time of his appointment.
August 11: Egypt 6-3 DR Congo
March 3: England 3-1 Egypt
January 31: Ghana 0-1 Egypt
January 28: Algeria 0-4 Egypt
January 25: Egypt 3-1 Cameroon
October 11, 2008: Nigeria 4-1 Sierra Leone
September 6, 2008: Sierra Leone 2-1 Equatorial Guinea
June 21, 2008: South Africa 0-0 Sierra Leone
June 14, 2008: Sierra Leone 1-0 South Africa
June 7, 2008: Sierra Leone 0-1 Nigeria
Both Zamalek forward Amr Zaki and Shikabala have missed out due to reported injuries but Hassan Shehata recently alleged that the pair were exaggerating their knocks in order to skip national team duty. Harras Al Hoodoud’s Ahmed Eid missed out due to a lack of competition stemming from a four-game league suspension he received for a red card. Meanwhile, Emad Meteeb is also out of consideration given his contractual issues with his former Belgian employers which have finally been solved. On the other hand, Shehata has handed first time call-ups to two ENNPI players, Walid Soliman and Ahmed Abdul Zaher.
Squad: Essam Al-Hadari (Zamalek), Abdul-Wahed Al-Sayed (Zamalek), Mohamed Sobhi (Ismaili), Wael Gomaa (Al-Ahly), Sherif Abdul-Fadil (Al-Ahly), Sayed Moawad (Ahly), Mahmoud Fathallah (Zamalek), Mohamed Abdul-Shafi (Zamalek), Moatasem Salem (Ismaili), Mohamed Naguib (Police Union), Ahmed Hassan (Al-Ahly), Hossam Ghaly (Al-Ahly), Ahmed Fathi, Mohamed Abou-Treika (Al-Ahly), Amr Al-Sulaya, Ahmed Khairi (Ismaili), Walid Soliman (ENPPI), Ahmed Elmohamady (Sunderland), Ahmed Abdul-Zaher (ENPPI), Geddo (Al-Ahly), Ahmed Ali (Ismaili), Ahmed Mekki (Harras Hodoud)
Christian Cole will be without his star striker, Mohamed Kallon, who turned down a call-up due to a lack of fitness. The hitman has recovered from a knee injury which sidelined him for two months and returned to club action very recently and has proclaimed his desire to get into better shape before representing his country. Meanwhile, AC Milan’s Rodney Strasser has received his first call-up to the Leone Stars.
Squad: Christian Caulker (FC Kallon), Mohamed “Fish Ball” Kanu, Ibrahim Koroma (Trelleborgs FF), Gibrilla Woobay (Universitatea Craiova), Umaru Bangura (Honefoss), Ahmed Deen (Hayes & Yeading United), Alpha Lansana (Ports Authority), Salifu Samura (Kallon FC), David Simbo (Mighty Blackpool), Ibrahim Kargbo (FC Baku), Sheriff Suma (Jönköpings Södra IF), Abu Tommy (Motala AIF), Rodney Strasser (AC Milan), Albert Jarret (Lincoln City), Samuel Ballay (East End Lions), Mustapha Bangura (Appolon Limassol), Pa Sallu Kamara, Kei Kamara (Kansas City Wizards), Mohamed Bangura (AIK), Sam Obi Metzger Jr (PP-70)
The smart money is definitely on Egypt getting a win in this one. Hassan Shehata has built a cohesive unit that works like a well-oiled machine and Sierra Leone simply haven’t had enough time together to get a result in Cairo. I still think they’ll nab a goal though.
Egypt 3-1 Sierra Leone
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