Egypt target joy of six
Egypt won the last CAF Africa Cup of Nations in front of their
own fans on home soil but success in Sunday's final against
Cameroon in Accra would give them even more satisfaction.
The defending champions have progressed with ruthless efficiency to the final of Ghana 2008, setting themselves up for a rare repeat trip to the winners' podium.
The Egyptians will be looking to repeat their back-to-back triumph of almost 50 years ago in 1957 and 1959, when they won the first two CAF Africa Cup of Nations tournaments.
The only other teams to achieve two successive titles are Ghana in 1963 and 1965 and Cameroon, who did the most recent successive double in 2000 and 2002.
The Pharaohs, the most successful team in Africa Cup of Nations
history, will also be looking to extend their number of titles to
six overall, and keep Cameroon from winning their fifth.
Debunking the widely-held view that teams from the Arabic-speaking north of Africa are poor travelers when they go to the central or western regions of the continent has been among Egypt's sources of motivation.
More importantly, though, has been their bid to prove their quality and professionalism, continuing a generation of success for Egyptian football in African competition.
Captain Ahmed Hassan says he believes the current team is even better than the side that beat Côte d'Ivoire on penalties in the 2006 final in Cairo. "This team is better than the one in 2006. The players have matured and gained much more experience," he said.
"We go into Sunday's final as the African champions and we will be well-prepared. We are proud of our team spirit and our will to win," added veteran goalkeeper Essam Al Hadari.
The 35-year-old net minder has been among the many shining stars at the tournament for the impressive Pharaohs.
The team has had quality in each department; from shaven-headed centre back Wael Gomaa, to elegant midfielders Hosni Abd Rabou and Mohamed Aboutrika, to flying full back Ahmed Fathi and ace striker Amr Zaki.
Influence from the bench
Galvanising all the elements together is Hassan Shehata, who is seeking to become the first coach to win successive Cup of Nations titles since CK Gyamfi of Ghana 33 years ago.
"We're the defending champions," the coach said. "All teams have pressure, but, of course, the pressure is especially on us as want to keep the title."
Shehata says the psychological side of the preparations has been of crucial importance. But the experienced boss has also produced some clever moments of tactical inspiration. Evidence of this came in the semi-final against Côte d'Ivoire, where a five-man midfield forced the dangerous Ivorian attackers like Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou out wide and rendered them virtually ineffective.
This time the coach will need a new ploy against a physically strong and imposing Cameroon side, who are sure to present a completely different challenge to the team that Egypt beat 4-2 at the start of the tournament.
"Cameroon started the tournament badly but recovered their form quickly. They have a lot of stars in their side, many of them from the highest level in European club football," insisted captain Hassan. "It will be a 50-50 tussle for sure."