16 January 2017

Egypt/Mali: Pharaohs Eager to Claim Afcon After Seven Years

Photo: Chris Ricco/Backpage Pix
Marwan Fahmy of Egypt battles for the ball with Molla Wague of Mali during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations Finals football match between Mali and Egypt at the Port Gentil Stadium in Gabon on 17 January 2017.

Egypt return to the African Nations Cup finals for the first time in seven years and are eager to prove their credentials as one of the tournament favourites as they open their Group D campaign against Mali at the Stade de Port-Gentil on Tuesday (19h00 GMT).

The Pharaohs won three tournaments in a row between 2006 and 2010, and are the most successful nation in the competition's history with seven titles overall, but have not been to the continental finals since that last victory.

But the team, which has gone through a rebuilding phase after losing a number of stalwarts in the last four or five years, are starting to build some momentum under Argentine Cuper, who is the only South American coach at this year's finals.

"We are ready and enthusiastic for the African Nations Cup. We will try to deliver our best to achieve good results," he told reporters, before adding he was already feeling the pressure before a ball has been kicked.

"In Egypt I always feel that I am facing a test to succeed or to fail. What I say is that we will try to win the African Cup title.

"I always ask every player to deliver his best. I will go to win in Gabon that fact I'm trying to stress on with my players. The tournament is important and I know well that fans adore trophies."

One of the intriguing questions facing Cuper is who to select as goalkeeper, having taken veteran stopper Essam El-Hadary, who remarkably turns 44 today [Sunday, January 15] to the finals.

Should he play he will be the oldest player to feature at the Nations Cup finals, but the Egyptian keeper coach Ahmed Nagy told reporters they had not decided yet on their first choice despite El-Hadary having been named nominal captain of the squad with Sherif Ekramy and Ahmed El-Shenawy also in contention.

Mali will provide a difficult opponent who finished third at the 2012 and 2013 Nations Cup tournaments.

They are led by experienced coach Alain Giresse, who admits they are a side that is in a rebuilding phase.

"We're a team that lost its leaders, which is undergoing restructuring with a framework formed by players like Mola Wagué, who plays at Udinese [Italy], Yacouba Sylla [Montpellier], Mustapha Yatabaré, who plays for Kardemir Karabukspor in Turkey and Bakary Sako from Crystal Palace," Giresse told AFP.

"We also have players who featured in the 2015 Under-20 World Cup such as Adama Traore [Monaco], who has great quality. But there is a lack of experience [in the team]."

Mali and Egypt have met twice before in friendly matches in recent years, with the Egyptians winning both 1-0.

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