Pharaohs count on home support
© Foto-net

Egypt have left no stone unturned in their quest to do themselves proud at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, which they will host from 24 September to 16 October. They have faced over 80 different opponents in friendlies and installed Miroslav Soukup, who masterminded Czech Republic's improbable runners-up finish at Canada 2007, in their hot-seat, marking the first time a foreigner has coached them at youth level.

Hany Ramzi, a formidable sweeper who won 124 caps for Egypt, has been appointed as the Czech's right-hand man, and together the coaches have had their players together for six over months, affording them the chance to gel.

The Egyptians traveled to Rwanda for the CAF African Youth Championship at the start of the year, and although they impressed in respective 2-1 wins over Côte d'Ivoire and South Africa, a defeat by Nigeria in their opener ultimately cost them a place in the next round. Ramzi nevertheless believes they have come on leaps and bounds thereafter.

"Of course we didn't show the necessary level in Rwanda and we weren't happy with our performance, but we have improved greatly since then," he told "The players have got more confidence and experience, and I believe that as a team we are a lot better than we were at the start of the year."

While Egypt will enter the world U-20 finals as one of the best-prepared sides, they have one of the only squads devoid of Europe-Based players. This, however, does not concern Soukup "I'm very content with the group I have now and I'm convinced they're the best," he said.

The home support and the knowing the grounds are important weapons that we must get the maximum benefit from.
Egypt assistant coach Hany Ramzi

"We called up several professionals from Italy, Austria, Denmark and other countries who joined the team so we could judge their level, but they were no better than the local players. We mustn't forget that the national team have succeeded in winning the African Cup of Nations twice with local players. I'm happy that most of the squad are local but remain convinced that the Egyptian player has what it takes to succeed in Europe."

Soukup's men are now fully focused on their opening game against Trinidad and Tobago. They may take inspiration from their predecessors from 18 years ago, who ran out 6-0 winners against the Caribbean side at the FIFA World Youth Championship Portugal 1991.

What Ramzi fears the most ahead of the curtain-raiser, which will be held in the Borg el Arab stadium on the northern coast, is pressure from an expectant crowd. The venue has the largest capacity in Egypt, holding almost 80,000 spectators, and this will be the first official match held there since it was opened almost a year ago.

"Our players are looking forward to the crowd's support and we hope to see this massive ground full to the rafters, but at the same time we worry that the pressure of the occasion might effect the players or cause them to lose focus," said Ramzi. "We've played a record number of friendly matches, but the largest crowd has been about 300 people."

"Certainly the situation will be very different in this tournament and it's an experience our players have not encountered during their careers, but we've done our best to prepare them psychologically and make them ready for this. I believe that the spotlight on them in the first game will help them come through a difficult start.

"The home support and the knowing the grounds are important weapons that we must get the maximum benefit from, just as the crowd was the driving force behind the senior team's victory in the 2006 African Nations Cup."