Conquering the continent
Although in the last 20 years they have been eclipsed on the world stage by rivals Nigeria, Senegal and Cameroon, Egypt have proudly established themselves, in the same era, as the strongest team on the continent. After lifting the last two, and three of the last six, Africa Cup of Nations (CAN), it is a sure bet that no CAF teams are taking the Pharaohs lightly on the road to South Africa in 2010 and the CAN in Angola that same year.
Hassan Shehata took over the coaching reins in 2004, and joined up with an emerging golden generation to deliver the 2006 African championship with a penalty shootout win over Cote d’lvoire in the final match. Their second continental title on the trot hinged on a defeat of the Elephants as well, as the Pharaohs defied all expectations in Ghana this past February by thrashing the tournament darlings Cote d’lvoire 4-1 in the semi-finals. Having flown largely under the radar to that point, the defending champions, who seldom deviate from Shehata’s preferred 3-5-2 formation, went toe-to-toe with the West Africans and showed impressive strength and surprising confidence. Goalkeeper Essam Al-Hadary was a star, as was bustling striker Amr Zaki, who claimed an inspired second-half brace.
Playmaker Mohamed Aboutrika, referred to by many as Egypt’s Zinedine Zidane, added a late tally in that last-four romp and scored the only goal in the final, a sluggish but deserved 1-0 win over Samuel Eto’o’s fancied Cameroon.
Hosny Abd Rabo, who cruelly missed the 2006 tournament after being injured a week before the finals, was named best player at Ghana 2008, and he was joined on the a!l-tournament team by defender Wael Gomaa, Aboutrika, Zaki and Al-Hadary, “Team spirit is a key for us,” said Abd Rabo after the championship. “We play well together, and we are proud to show again that we are no pushovers.”