On 29 July the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2011 gets underway in Colombia, and among the 24 sides taking part will be Egypt. At the helm of the Pharaohs for their seventh appearance at the showpiece event will be coach Diaa El Sayed, who guided his young charges to qualification via their third-place finish at the CAF African Youth Championship held in South Africa earlier this year.
FIFA.com spoke to El Sayed about Egypt’s route to the FIFA U-20 World Cup and his aims for the tournament.
FIFA.com: How are your side preparing for the challenge of the FIFA U-20 World Cup?
Diaa El Sayed: We’re currently in the middle of an intensive preparatory period that is scheduled for the month leading up to the tournament. We spent a week in Portugal, where we played the Portuguese national side twice, then headed to Costa Rica, where we are participating in three matches, two against a very strong Costa Rica U-20 side who will be competing alongside us in Colombia. On 16 July we leave for a six-day camp in Bogota during which we’ll be playing in another friendly game, and finally off to Barranquilla on 21 July, where we’ll be playing our opening game against Brazil on 29 July.
What do you think of the other teams in Group A?
Well, Brazil are a recognized force in world football. I’ll say no more about them. As for Panama and Austria, I watched some of their recent games and they’re both physical and quick sides. Our priority in the group stage is to collect the points we need to make it through to the Round of 16.
Will your players have any difficulty acclimatizing to South American conditions? Do you think the fact that Egypt came third at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Argentina 2001 shows they can cope?
Of course I think they can cope! As far as acclimatization goes, that’s why we've started preparing early. The players will have two weeks to get used to the weather, the food and the general atmosphere in Colombia before the tournament begins.
Has it been hard getting the squad assembled just a month before the competition begins?
We went to Portugal with only 17 players. We were missing five, three from Al Ahly and two from Zamalek. Those two clubs refused to release their players early due to a fierce battle at the top of the Egyptian league, which was still in progress due to delays caused by the outbreak of the Egyptian revolution in January. These five will be joining up with us in Costa Rica.
At the 2011 CAF African Youth Championship in South Africa, your side relied heavily on Zamalek’s Mohamed Ibrahim. Could this dependence on a single player become a weakness?
Our team is full of stars. Aside from Mohamed Ibrahim, there’s Mohamed Salah and Ahmed Hegazi, and our fantastic goalkeeper, Ahmed El Shenawy, who was selected as the best goalkeeper in South Africa. Moreover, we play as a unit. Our game relies on performing well as a team, so I don’t believe we have any weaknesses in that regard.
The Egyptian senior national team has been going through a torrid time recently, and are effectively out of the running for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations 2012 despite being crowned African champions at the last three editions. Can your young squad contribute anything to the senior side during this transitional period?
Obviously I’m biased towards my boys, but I can tell you for certain that there are at least eight or nine players, mentioning no names, who could go straight into the senior squad and shine.
Will there be any major changes to the formation and tactics you employed in South Africa?
No, I don’t think so. We’ll play with the same formation and players that won us bronze at the CAF Youth Championship.
Finally, what are your expectations for Colombia 2011?
Of course I want us to go as far as we can, which is winning the cup! Any coach would say the same. First of all, we have to get through the group stages, but I’ve got a hunch we’re going to make a big impression at this tournament!