NIGERIA’S FIRST ROUND OPPONENTS
Following their failure to qualify for the FIFA World Cup, the African Cup of Nations in Angola offers the Pharaohs of Egypt the chance of winning any major silverware in 2010.
Things have not been the same again for the Pharaohs since their well deserved victory in Ghana two years ago as the Hassan Shehata boys floundered through the qualifiers towards Angola 2010 and South Africa 2010 and it would have been a sort of travesty if they had beaten their in-form eternal rivals, Algeria to the World Cup ticket.
But it would be wrong to write off the chances of the Pharaohs because they are the pace setters at this level after winning the continental championships a record six times (1957, 1959, 1986, 1998, 2006 and 2008). They would be among the favourites in Angola since they have a high reputation of turning adversity to advantage in view of the fact that their victories in 1998 and 2006 were achieved when they failed to qualify for the France’98 and Germany 2006 World Cup Finals.
“Egypt are the champions of Africa so that won’t be easy but if we believe in ourselves maybe we can spring some surprises,” noted Mozambique’s most capped player and record goal scorer Tico-Tico.
Egypt begins their 2010 Nations account on January 12 against the Super Eagles of Nigeria in what is regarded as the most important fixture in Group C, based in the coastal city of Benguela, to be followed by the games against Mozambique and Benin.
Unlike most of the contenders at this Nations Cup, Coach Shehata would as usual, cast his lot with home-based players drawn largely from the country’s two top clubs, Al-Ahly and Zamalek. The Egyptian league is regarded as one of the best on the continent and this informed the reason why the players rarely venture out to Europe for professional career.
On their way to winning the trophy in 2008, Shehata said the Pharaohs are usually difficult to beat because they play as a united front: “I think there is an understanding that we have a special bond. We have a side that plays for each other and maybe even for me as coach,” he explained.
More than ever before, Shehata would be relying on his battle-hardened side to write his name in gold as the most successful coach at the African Cup of Nations by winning a third successive title. Already, his feat of two consecutive wins in 2006 and 2008 has put him on the same pedestal with Charles Kumi Gyamfi of Ghana, who won the tournament in 1963 and 1965.
Despite failing to qualify the Pharaohs for the 2010 World Cup, Shehata was handed a fresh mandate to lead the team till 2014 by the Egyptian Football Association and the vastly experienced former Army Officer believed it would boost the team’s morale to excel in Angola.
“It would have been difficult to travel to Angola knowing that my contract is expiring at the end of the month. I agreed with the FA to take this step in order to retain mutual respect and make the players feel confident,” Shehata said while unveiling his 32-man provisional squad for Angola 2010.
Man to watch
Scouted by the Danish Superliga side Akademisk Boldklub (AB) while he was juggling a ball at a Danish park in 1999, Zidan moved to the league rivals FC Midtjylland (FCM), in June 2006 where he became the league’s top scorer in the 2003-04 season, and he was awarded the Rookie of the Year award, becoming Player of the Year the following season. In all, he scored 30 goals in 47 appearances for FC Midtjylland.
After making his mark in the Scandinavian nation, top European clubs finds Zidan a beautiful bride and it was not surprising to see him team up with German club SV Werder Bremen for a fee of three million Euros.
He was called to represent Egypt in the 2008 African Cup of Nations qualification match against Burundi, where he scored his first international goal only five minutes after kick-off.
In Egypt’s Africa Cup of Nations opening Group C match against Cameroon in 2008, Zidan turned in a sensational performance, scoring two superb goals, helping the African Champions’ cause for defending their title.
Nations Cup record
Mozambique: Counting on team work and discipline
Mozambique last played at an Africa Cup of Nations in 1998. “We have a good squad and it would be a dream come true if we qualify for the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations in Angola. We are not thinking in terms of failure.”
And how prophetic could anybody be. It is to Nooij’s credit that the Mozambican flag would be hoisted at Africa’s premier tournament after a 12-year absence and the Mambas have really flourished under the guidance of this Dutch tactician.
“We have a nice team. There is nothing wrong with the team of Mozambique. The philosophy and the vision is okay , the players are executing my ideas as if they were their own,” he maintained.
Nooij previously worked with the Dutch FA as a training instructor. He was also coach of Burkina Faso’s under-20 team, which took part in the 2003 World Youth Championship in the United Arab Emirates before this major assignment with Mozambique.
The Mambas have become an emerging power since he took over from Artur Semedo in February 2007 and they displayed this with great effect during the qualifiers when they claimed Tunisia’s scalp on the last day to book their well deserved qualification to Angola and not forgetting the scare they gave the Super Eagles as well.
By chance, Mozambique have drawn Nigeria, Egypt and Republic of Benin for their preliminary group matches at this Nations Cup in Angola and it is assumed that they would not be treated with kid’s gloves by opposing teams.
Mozambique’s most capped player and record goal scorer Tico-Tico said he thought it was a tough draw for his side.
“It’s time for us to prove who the better team is. Nigeria escaped being beaten in Mozambique. Our fans are still bitter over it. And when we came to Abuja, Nigeria scored a goal almost at the end of added time. While we are still ruing our ill-luck, we got logged together in the Nations Cup.
Two to watch
At international level, Dário who stands at 5 ft 11 is regarded as one of the best talents ever produced in Mozambique and is currently one of the most renowned footballers in the current squad. Dário played for his nation at the 1998 African Cup of Nations in Burkina Faso, where Mozambique finished at the bottom of their group losing every match in the tournament. As at November, 2009 he had 85 caps and 21 goals for Mozambique.
Nations Cup record
Benin: Ready to ruffle some big feathers
Michel Dussuyer, coach of Republic of Benin’s national football team, will be hoping to make it third time lucky when he matches out his boys against Mozambique on Match-day One of the African Nations Cup in the Angolan city of Benguela.
This is the third time Benin Republic would be qualifying for the Nations Cup finals and Les Écureuils (The Squirrels) would be hoping to exorcise the memory of the past when they failed to go beyond the preliminary group in 2004 and 2008. Dussuyer seemed to know what is at stake for his team after the finals draw that pitched him against defending champions, Egypt, Nigeria and Mozambique. He noted that he would be banking on mother luck to move beyond the preliminary stage of the biggest soccer fiesta in Africa. “That is a difficult Group for me but we can only hope on mother luck to help us move out of the group”.
But fortunately for the Squirrels, Mali lost three points in their encounter against Ghana, and having missed six more points through three draws, Benin jumped ahead to emerge Group D’s runners-up with 10 points, three points behind leaders, Ghana.
The road to Angola kicked off for Benin on November 25, 2007 in South Africa, at a time when 48 African countries were all waiting impatiently for their fate.
The draw for the finals did not come as a surprise for Benin as they ended up in Group C with African champions Egypt, Nigeria, and Mozambique.
In Angola, Benin will play against Mozambique in their first match of the finals in Benguela. Mozambique had hard times in their qualification for the tournament’s finals and thus Benin shouldn’t have too many difficulties starting their campaign on a confident note.
Benin will square up against neighbours Nigeria in their second match and this game is regarded as the battle of ‘friendly foes’ since some of the Squirrels have their roots in Nigeria. The last time the two sides met at this level, Nigeria were the better side with a 2-0 win in Ghana that secured the Eagles’ qualification for the quarter finals.
Said he: “All the guys know we are in with a chance and will strive to give their best. This team has what it takes to do well in Angola and in the future but we need that extra bit of determination and anger which makes a team fight harder during their matches. We really don’t have so much to lose since everyone has written us off before the first ball is kicked in Angola. Benin failed to get beyond the group phase of the Nations Cup in Tunisia in 2004 and in Ghana in 2008.
“We are opening with Mozambique and if we play well, I think we can win. Of course the next game against Nigeria will be a high-pressure game, [as will] our last match against Egypt, but our players all have big-match temperament. If we can get into the knockout phase, at least that would give us something positive to go home with,” he affirmed.
Two to watch
Rasak Omotoyossi: Although his quick success is a surprise to many, the world has been keeping an eye on the jet-heeled, muscular Razak since he scored Benin’s first-ever goal at a world finals at the FIFA U-20 World Championship in the Netherlands in 2005. “I always want to score goals, every time I go out on the pitch,” he said then.