Hosts primed for U-20 showpiece
© Foto-net

With the stated aim of testing the maximum number of players before naming his squad for the FIFA U-20 World Cup on home soil this September, Egypt U-20 coach Miroslav Soukup requested as many friendly games as possible against national and club sides.

At the CAF African Youth Championship held in Rwanda early this year, the Pharaohs enjoyed wins over Côte d'Ivoire and South Africa after losing their opening game to Nigeria. Their coach Soukup, who led his native Czech Republic to the runners-up spot last time out at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007, put his trust in new names like Shihab Ahmad and Moustafa Salim of Al Ahlym, and defender Saad Eddin Samir, who plies his trade with Libyan club Nasr.

As part of the preparations for September's showpiece event, Soukup's charges have played friendlies against Korea Republic, Czech Republic, Spain and Australia. Their heaviest defeat was a 4-1 reverse at the hands of the Koreans, while their 2-0 win over Spain was their best victory. The team also participated in a friendly tournament in the Netherlands, squaring off against Brazilian side Gremio, Eindhoven and Ajax of the Netherlands, and Valencia from Spain. In addition, they competed in 2009 edition of the annual Toulon Tournament in France, losing to Argentina and UAE 3-2 and 1-0 respectively, and drawing with the Netherlands 1-1.

Everybody is focused on achieving our goals and emulating the feats of the senior national side.
Miroslav Soukup

Egypt's preparations also involved a training camp in Germany, where they played many friendlies, most notably against Werder Bremen. The Pharaohs' final fixtures ahead of Egypt 2009 were two games against a visiting USA side last month, the Stars and Stripes claiming victory in their first match Alexandria then drawing 1-1 in Cairo in the second.

Afterwards Soukup expressed his satisfaction with the speed at which his squad were developing but insisted that there was still a long way to go. "We've had many games against teams with varying playing styles," said Soukup, adding, "We're still trying to find solutions for some of the problems we face, but I hope we'll be in top form before the start of the World Cup."

The coach insisted his biggest problem was the dearth of playing time for his squad members with their respective clubs in the Egyptian Premier League. "Unfortunately, the vast majority of the squad are not playing on a regular basis with their clubs. So consequently we've insisted on having as many games as possible to enable the lads to play together as much as they can, thus creating a friendly environment that's perfect for showcasing their talents. Everybody is focused on achieving our goals and emulating the feats of the senior national side."

At the big event in September, Egypt will play in Group A alongside Italy, Paraguay, and Trinidad and Tobago, with the hosts contesting the tournament's opening game against the Caribbean islanders at the Borg El Arab Stadium in Alexandria on 24 September.