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Pharaohs under pressure

CAIRO, January 7 – Angola 2010 will be a true test of character for six-time African champions Egypt, who are still be smarting from their failure to qualify for the 2010 World Cup.The Pharaohs were expected to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa for the first time since their last appearance in 1990, but were upstaged by bitter regional rivals Algeria in a play-off after both teams were tied on the same 13 points and had also scored the same goals as well as let in the same number of goals after six rounds of matches.

"Losing out narrowly on the World Cup ticket to Algeria was really very painful and we have resolved to put that behind us to focus on retaining our Nations Cup title in Angola," said Egypt coach, Hassan Shehata, who led them to victory at both the 2006 and 2008 Nations Cups.

"My players were dispirited as a result of the shock but I have been talking to them and psyching them up for the tough task in Angola."

One thing going for the defending champions is that there has been continuity in the team. Coach Shehata has been in charge since 2004, something of a rarity in African football, and the bulk of the team still play their football in Egypt.

However, critics also say that this is an ageing team and Angola 2010 could well be a swansong for experienced campaigners like skipper Ahmed Hassan, goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary, Mohamed Aboutrika and Wael Gomaa.

Skipper Hassan is the team’s most capped player, equalling legendary Hossam Hassan’s record cap of 169.

The Pharaohs could also do with scoring more goals as they line up several top strikers like Amr Zaki, Ahmed Hossam ‘Mido and Mohamed Zidan.

The Nations Cup is a favourite hunting ground for Egypt, meaning they should progress past a group that includes Nigeria and Mozambique and from there on, anything is possible.

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"I can say it’s an easy group. I think we will reach the knockout stage along with Nigeria. Of course Egypt are better than Benin and Mozambique while Nigeria are not at their best, but they are likely to accompany us to the next round," predicted a top official of the Egypt Football Association, Hazem Al-Hawari.

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