With a strong league and some of the biggest clubs in Africa, Egypt has not traditionally sent many players abroad. However, after two consecutive CAF Africa Cup of Nations confirmed the presence of a golden generation of players, several of the Pharaohs are now plying their trade abroad. And more importantly, they are succeeding.
Two of the most high-profile current success stories are the pair of 25-year-old forwards, Ahmed 'Mido' Hossam, now with Middlesbrough after stops at Spurs, Roma, Marseille and Ajax, and Wigan revelation Amr Zaki. The dynamic duo have kicked off the Premier League season in inspired form, and both are hoping that their experience abroad will help them lift their national team to the first FIFA World Cup™ on African soil in 2010.
Former Egypt international Magdi Abdul Ghani, who scored the team's only goal at Italy 1990, summed up the hope of a nation: "."
This generation is better than we were. Most importantly, this group has players who are succeeding in some of the world's most competitive leagues, like the English Premiership. That's something we could not say
While Mido was a known quantity in European football, Wigan boss Steve Bruce took a chance in signing Zaki on loan to partner England international Emile Heskey. His only previous spell outside of Egypt was a turbulent move to Lokomotiv Moscow in 2006, in which he didn't play a single game. But, so far, he has been hailed by many as the signing of the season.
The former Zamalek ace, affectionately known as 'The Bulldozer', scored on his debut against West Ham, and now has six goals in all competitions and five in the Premier League to make him top scorer in the EPL.
The fit has been so good with the Latics that Bruce has tipped the player to win the league's top scorer prize in due course, and Wigan chairman Dave Whelan turned more than a few heads by insisting that Zaki is as good as Alan Shearer.
"I feel at home at Wigan," Zaki said last week. "(Steve Bruce) spent six months trying to sign me, and I want to show him that I was worth it."
For his part, Mido seems to have both put his wandering ways - he has lined up for eight different clubs already in his career - behind him, and he has fully recovered his fitness from the hernia surgery that kept him out of Egypt's Ghana 2008 triumph. Even so, his four goals in his first five matches make him Boro's top scorer.
Spark for Egypt
Although it is still early in the season, the fine form of Zaki and Mido has inspired Egyptian fans to dream about a spot in South Africa, and what would only be Egypt's third appearance at a FIFA World Cup finals.
"We are very optimistic that we can make it to the World Cup, because we've already proven that we can overcome any team on the continent," said Zaki, who was named in the Ghana 2008 Team of the Tournament. "During two successive Nations Cup triumphs, we beat the likes of Côte d'Ivoire and Cameroon, so fans will not tolerate any failure to reach the finals this time."
And though he famously clashed with coach Hassan Shehata at the 2006 Cup of Nations, Mido credits the longevity of the no-nonsense boss with the Pharaohs' recent successes. "We now have a coach who knows the players perfectly well, and has surrounded himself with the right people," the veteran of three qualifying campaigns told FIFA.com.
The side is all but assured of a spot in the third round of African qualifying for South Africa 2010, needing only to avoid defeat at home against minnows Djibouti to get drawn into the final five groups of four teams. As one of the top seeds, the six-time African champions will avoid the likes of Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria, but the Egyptians are wary of the draw, which takes place on 24 October.
"I'd like to avoid the North African teams," admitted Mido. "Those kind of heated rivalries are usually decided on other factors than just performance, and they often end up resembling a Cairo derby, tough and unpredictable."
Copyright AFRICAN FOOTBALL MEDIA