Egypt arrives in SA for Afcon qualifier

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pretoria - Egypt coach Hassan Shehata landed in South Africa this weekend with his 23-man strong squad to face Bafana Bafana in a crucial 2012 African Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier match. 

The match, which the Egyptians wanted moved to another date following unrest in their country recently, will be played at Ellis Park stadium on Saturday at 8:05pm. 

Currently, Shehata and his team are struggling at the bottom of Group G with only one point and they are hoping to beat Bafana to regain their confidence to qualify for the 2012 Afcon in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. 

The Pharaohs have dropped to number 35 on the current FIFA World ranking list, while Bafana moved up to position 46. 

Bafana are now leading Group G with four points after two rounds, followed by Niger with three, Sierra Leone two and title holders Egypt one point.

On 31 January 2010, Egypt set a new record, not being defeated for 19 consecutive African Cup of Nations matches, since their last match at the 2004 African Cup of Nations.

The North Africans are the current African champions after beating Ghana in the 2010 Afcon final match, and becoming the first team to win three consecutive Afcon titles. 

Egypt has won the last three African Cup of Nations starting in 2006, 2008 and 2010, under Shehata's guidance. 

The team has been as high as ninth position in the FIFA world rankings, making them one of only two African and Arab national teams ever to enter the world top 10. 

Despite this, Egypt has so far made only two appearances in the World Cup, with no victories.

However, Bafana coach Pitso Mosimane said the fact that the Egyptians brought a very strong team shows how much they want to win. 

"We cannot afford to relax. This is going to be a difficult game, which will be tactically exhausting and emotionally challenging, but we believe we have the opportunity to give South Africa hope and confidence as we edge closer to qualification for AFCON 2012," he said.

Bafana skipper Steven Pienaar, who is still placed on an individual training programme following his mild groin injury, said he was aware of the danger the Egyptians might pose in their quest to return to their winning form.

"We are all aware it is not going to be easy and this is one match we cannot afford to lose, as we want to keep our aspirations of qualifying alive. This is perhaps the biggest game for us since the 2010 FIFA World Cup and we have to ensure we retain all three points in South Africa," he said. 

Rueben Cloete is also suffering from a groin injury, while Simphiwe Tshabalala has a right hamstring injury that saw him miss his club's Nedbank Challenge clash against Nathi Lions a week ago. 

Bafana team doctor Ephraim Nematswerani said: "Both Cloete and Tshabalala have been under observation since the start of camp. I have been in contact with the team doctors at Kaizer Chiefs and 
Tottenham Hotspur about the special programmes Tshabalala and Pienaar have to undergo while in camp with us, but I am confident they will be ready to take on Egypt."