"Egypt are very optimistic they can make it to the World Cup because we have already proven capable of overcoming any team in Africa," the seven-goal Wigan striker told Egyptian reporters. "During two successive Nations Cup triumphs we beat the likes of Côte d'Ivoire and Cameroon so our supporters will not tolerate failure to reach the finals this time."
Although the 'Pharaohs' have lifted the Nations Cup a record six times, the North African country has qualified for the FIFA World Cup only twice and the last time was 18 years ago.
Hassan Shehata, coach of the triumphant 2006 and 2008 teams in the biennial Nations Cup, and sometime bad boy, sometime hero Ahmed 'Mido' Hossam are equally confident, although wary of regional opposition. "We are the reigning champions of Africa so everyone is supposed to fear us, not the opposite, and being among the first seeds will spare us from facing tough opponents like Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire and Nigeria," said Shehata.
"However, I'm always wary of North African opponents because the rivalry between us is incredible. Being the better team does not always mean you win such matches," warned the coach in an interview.
Striker Mido agreed: "I'd like to avoid the North African teams. Those kind of heated rivalries are usually decided on factors other than just performance. World Cup qualifiers that pit countries in the north of the continent against each other often end up resembling a Cairo derby between Al Ahly and Zamalek, tough and unpredictable."
Egypt have a 60 per cent chance of being paired with North African opponents as Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia are second seeds with west African duo Guinea and Mali. Other first seeds are Cameroon, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire and Nigeria, while Benin, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Kenya and Zambia comprise the third tier and Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sudan and Togo the fourth.
The 20 survivors from the second round, which claimed notable casualties in Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal, South Africa and Germany 2006 qualifiers Angola, will be split into five groups. Each country plays its three rivals home and away, with group winners going to the 2010 FIFA World Cup with hosts South Africa, and the top three in each group joining hosts Angola at the Nations Cup earlier that year.
Matches are scheduled for six weekends from next March to November with the exception of a June fixture involving Egypt, which must be delayed one month because of their involvement in the FIFA Confederations Cup.