If there were any questions or doubts before the CAF Africa Cup of Nations about Egypt’s strength in African football, the Pharaohs offered the best possible answer by winning their third consecutive continental trophy and a record seventh overall.
Statistically, they are the most successful team in African football by almost all conceivable measures, and they have now put behind them the disappointment of losing out on a FIFA World Cup™ berth. It was enough to make the usually steely Egyptian coach Hassan Shehata gush after the 1-0 final win over Ghana. “This is the best Egypt team ever, of any generation. Three in a row is something that will be hard to beat,” he said.
FIFA.com spoke exclusively to one of the shining stars of the team, Mohamed Zidan, minutes after they had been crowned as champions of Africa at the 11 November stadium in Luanda. The Borussia Dortmund forward, who turned 29 during the event, says that despite finishing the tournament with a perfect record, the Egyptians are still hungry to achieve more.
FIFA.com: First of all, congratulations on winning yet another Africa Cup of Nations. It’s been yet another flawless campaign for Egypt.
Zidan: Yes, we are very excited with this victory. It’s very moving for us. We knew that that the final was important for us as we wanted to set another record. We are all hungry to achieve more. And the good thing is, I believe we can be better. We have now won this competition three times in a row and anyone who wants to equal our record will have to work very hard.
Egypt have now won the Africa Cup of Nations seven times. Do you think anyone can top that record?
I would say it’s impossible, but again, in football, they say nothing is impossible. I don’t see that happening anytime soon though. To beat this record, I think a team must come up with something very special for a long time.
Would you say this is the best Egyptian side ever?
That is not for me to say, that is for the people and the fans to decide. I think we just have to focus on doing well as a team and let others judge. We are enjoying our football at the moment. I’m not in a position to make comparisons.
Playing Ghana in the final was never going to be an easy task for you.
Ghana are a quality side, they are a good team and we have a lot of respect for them. We watched them against Nigeria in the semis, and we saw a very organised team. We knew that we had to play very well to beat them. As I said, playing against a side like Ghana is not easy, they have some good players, and they gave us a good game. And they had their chances, but fortunately for us, they couldn’t score. I think the difference between us and them is that we utilised our best chance to score.
Many people say Egypt played the best football in this tournament. What was the biggest motivation for you and the team?
In every competition, we always try to do our best. We came to this tournament determined to play good football and obviously defend this trophy, and we have done that. It was not easy because there were many good sides in this competition. If you look at some of the teams, they have good players and those teams play good football. But we knew what we wanted to achieve and we decided that we were not going to concentrate on them. We played good football, and we won all our matches. I think it was only fair that we won the trophy at the end of the day.
What is the secret behind the success of this Pharaohs team?
A lot of people tend to ask that question, but honestly, there is no secret. I think the most important thing is that we don’t really have any big stars in our team. By that, I don’t mean we don’t have good players, but in our team, we see each other as equal. Everyone is there to work for the team. We have one objective and that is to make Egypt the best. We try and develop ourselves every match and improve.
Just how important is the captain, Ahmed Hassan, to the team?
He has been brilliant in this competition. He leads by example. But as said, we don’t really single out players in our camp, everything we do, we do it as a team. We fight for each other, we play for each other. But yes, Ahmed is a special player who has a lot of experience.
What does the future hold for you?
At the moment I’m happy, and I’m enjoying football. I don’t worry about the future. Let me just say that we will see. But as I said, I’m happy for now.
Finally, missing on the World Cup must have been disappointing for you and fellow Egyptians.
Oh yes, it was. I was looking forward to playing at this World Cup in South Africa. But I don’t have to talk about that forever. It’s in the past now, and we would rather focus on the future.