The CAF Africa Cup of Nations Group C game between Egypt and Benin on Wednesday will match the continent's heavyweights up against the underdogs, who are fired-up to get their first-ever win in the competition.
The Squirrels are third in Group C with a point from two matches, but still have a chance of progressing to the next round if they shock the African champions and second-placed Nigeria lose to Mozambique. "We have not given up yet because we still have a match to play and if we get the results we wish for, we could still remain in the tournament. We will fight till the end," said Benin coach Michel Dessuyer.
Benin have already pulled off a shock result in the qualifiers when they pipped the Black Stars of Ghana 1-0 at home in September courtesy of a late winner by youngster Mohammed Aoudou. Six-time champions Egypt, on the other hand, will be hoping to extend a new record of going unbeaten in 15 matches in the championship since the 2004 tournament, where they last lost 2-1 to bitter regional rivals Algeria.
The previous record of 14 games without defeat was held by Cameroon, who achieved this record between 1984 and 1988. The Pharaohs are top of Group C after they recorded maximum points from their first two matches against Nigeria and Mozambique.
They thus became the second team after the Côte d'Ivoire to reach the last eight in Angola and as a result coach Hassan Shehata will give several fringe players a run out against the Squirrels on Wednesday. Shehata has disclosed that first-choice goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary will, along with several other key players like Al Ahly central defender Wael Gomaa, be rested and so afford him an opportunity to assess the likes of ENPPI midfielder Abdelaziz Tawfik and Moatasem Salem from Ismailia.
The Egypt coach has bemoaned the lack of quality goalkeepers in the country, even suggesting that foreign goalkeepers be banned from the domestic championship so that young home-grown goalkeepers get a better chance to come through. Skipper Ahmed Hassan, 34, will also be in action for his 169th cap to equal the all-time Egyptian record set by striker Hossam Hassan.
Two strikes in as many matches as a second-half substitute have thrown the spotlight on Al-Ittihad midfielder Mohamed 'Gedo' Nagy here in Benguela. He is now likely to start against a Benin team, who will be missing their biggest star, Stephane Sessegnon of Paris Saint-Germain through suspension.
Dessuyer, will most probably play either the diminutive Arnaud Seka or Pascal Angan in place of Sessegnon. Seka is the shortest player at Angola 2010, standing at only about 1.5 metres. He was the crowd favourite when he came on as a late substitute against Nigeria, while Angan is a 23-year-old attacking midfielder who plays his club football in Morocco.
Last year, both teams clashed in a friendly in Cairo with Egypt running away 4-1 winners. Benin's goal was scored by their Nigerian-born striker Razak Omotoyossi. The team's leading scorer in the qualifiers with eight goals from 11 matches, Omotoyossi was again on target in the opening group game at the Ombaka Stadium against Mozambique as the Squirrels failed to defend a two-goal lead to draw 2-2.
Top officials were disappointed even though this was the west Africans' first point ever at the Nations Cup so much so that they ordered four coaches from the country's Under-20 and Under-17 team down to Angola to assist Frenchman Dessuyer for the match they lost 1-0 to Nigeria. Experienced goalkeeper Rachad Chitou was forced out of the match against Nigeria through injury but he is expected to be fit in time for this match after he resumed training on Monday evening in Catumbila.