Since qualifying began for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ over two years ago, very few games have generated the buzz and expectancy of tomorrow’s Group C showdown between Egypt and Algeria at the Cairo Stadium.
Despite the secrecy surrounding the preparations of the teams, Egypt coach Hassan Shehata and his Algerian counterpart Rabah Saadane were happy to give FIFA.com their opinions ahead of the forthcoming fixture.
Both coaches firmly believe their charges will prevail while at the same time showing the utmost respect for their opponents. For his part, Saadane says: “We’re in the better position regarding points and goal difference. This will be an important factor, as it will enable us to approach the game calmly in the knowledge that we have a mathematical superiority over Egypt. Of course, we still have to capitalise on this on the field of play. As I see it there will be two elements to this game: tactics and psychology, and I believe the latter will play a big part in deciding the winner.”
Saadane conceded that his rivals will have benefited from their preparations for the match. “Of course it’s an advantage for the Egyptians – they’ve been preparing at a closed camp for almost two weeks, which they’ve been able to do as most of their squad play for local clubs," he said. "However, we still have a psychological edge as some of our lads are at big clubs in Europe, and this will help us get the most out of our shorter training camp in Florence.”
Meanwhile, Shehata insists his men are ready to step up to the challenge. “We know we have a chance and it is up to us to take it. We’ve faced far more difficult situations in the past against fiercer opponents, and we were able to overcome them. Many people felt we’d blown our chances of qualification when we lost in Algeria, but we’re still in the race. We have one chance now and we must seize it, but we’ve got to be extremely wary of our tough opponents.”
His Algerian counterpart admitted that a place at South Africa 2010 was not his primary goal when the qualifiers began. “Our main aim when we started out was to return to the African Cup of Nations Cup after an absence of four years, which we’ve already achieved thanks to the limitless support we had in Algeria. However, after we’d beaten Senegal 3-2 in our second group game round I felt that maybe we could go one stage further, especially given the improvement the team had made over the previous two years.”
Zambia: the turning point
Interestingly, Saadane and Shehata agree that their matches in Zambia represented turning points in the group, with both sides having returned from Chililabombwe with maximum points.
“Our victory against Zambia made us outright leaders, coming as it did right after our win against Egypt, and consequently we’re here today on the verge of qualifying for the World Cup finals,” said Saadane. For his part, Shehata also highlighted the importance of his side’s away wins – first against Rwanda and later Zambia, even if he will be without the scorer of the winning goal in the latter game, Hosny Abd Rabo, for Saturday’s showdown.
As expected, neither coach was willing to talk about their sides’ line-ups or tactics, but they were open to discussing the merits of their opponents. Asked about Les Fennecs, Egypt’s coach replied: “As well as being enthusiastic and very competitive, they’re a team that play very good football.”
Meanwhile, the Algeria supremo was mindful of the fact that he was facing Africa’s most successful team in recent years, saying, “They’re enjoying a rare period of stability at present, and winning those two (African Cup of Nations) titles shows the vast experience these players have. That said, we won’t play defensively against them as this would be a huge mistake. Instead we'll play a controlled game, especially as we have the advantage in terms of points.”
Both men also felt the huge crowd would work in their favour, Shehata insisting his players like nothing better than satisfying their passionate supporters. “Or aim is always to please the fans and we hope to continue to do this on Saturday. Our players have enough experience to win in front of such a huge crowd, as they showed at the African Cup of Nations in 2006.”
Saadane, meanwhile, said the contest would be between the players on the pitch and felt, if anything, that the massive expectation of the home support could play into his side’s hands, especially if they could exploit the weaknesses they have identified in their opponents.
If the determination and confidence of the respective coaches is anything to go by, it looks certain to be a classic in Cairo come Saturday.