Pharaohs scaling football's pyramid
© AFP

After Egypt narrowly missed out on qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ back in November, few were tipping their demoralised players to come away from the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Angola with the continental trophy. 

However, Hassan Shehata’s charges surprised everyone by not only retaining their title, but seeing off four teams set to represent Africa at the FIFA World Cup finals in the process. Their success in Angola, where they strung together successive wins against South Africa 2010 qualifiers Nigeria, Cameroon, Algeria and Ghana, as well as Benin and Mozambique, has propelled the Pharaohs up 14 places in the Ranking to tenth – their highest ever position and the second-best for any African team, behind Nigeria’s fifth place in April 1994. 

The Pharaohs began their Cup of Nations journey with a impressive victory over Nigeria, coming from a goal down to run out comfortable 3-1 winners with a strong second-half display. They went on to register consecutive 2-0 wins over Benin and Mozambique in their remaining group games, qualifying as section winners.

In the quarter-final, the North Africans’ quest almost foundered against the Lions of Cameroon, who took them to extra time. However, the experience of captain, Ahmed Hassan, and the skill of supersub Mohamed 'Gedo' Nagy secured Egypt a 2-1 win to set up a mouth-watering semi-final clash against fierce rivals Algeria.

A repeat of their FIFA World Cup play-off encounter, from which Algeria had emerged victorious, the match appeared to present Egypt with the ultimate test. However, the Pharaohs totally dominated in a one-sided affair, running out 4-0 winners and moving on to face Ghana in the decider. What happened next is already history, with supersub Gedo, the tournament’s surprise package, grabbing the game’s only goal to hand Egypt their third successive African title and seventh overall.

Suitable compensation
Failure to reach this year’s showpiece event in South Africa 2010 may have been a bitter pill to swallow, but their victory at Angola 2010 has again underlined their lofty status in world football.

National team coach Hassan Shehata was quick to pay tribute to his charges, saying: “Reaching tenth place in the World Ranking is an incredible achievement and provides us all with great encouragement. It was achieved by virtue of hard work by both the coaching staff and the players themselves. For Egypt to be occupying such an elevated position in the rankings is a great response to those who doubted our ability after we failed to attain our dream of playing in the World Cup.”

The team’s entry into the top ten in the world is the clearest evidence yet that the current crop of players are the best to have ever pulled on the red jersey.
Egypt captain Ahmed Hassan

Shehata went on to say, “This is not just a success for the team, but for African, Arab and Egyptian football. It’s also the perfect tonic for the Egyptian people who have supported us in all our matches.”

Captain Ahmed Hassan went even further, saying: “The team’s entry into the top ten in the world is the clearest evidence yet that the current crop of players are the best to have ever pulled on the red jersey.” The former Anderlecht and Besiktas star added that “the rise in rankings rounds off the success achieved in Angola and is down to the hard work of the players and coaching staff, especially Hassan Shehata”.

A chance to prove themselves 
The Pharaohs will have the opportunity to prove that their lofty position is no fluke when they face England, currently one place ahead of them in the standings, on 3 March at Wembley Stadium.

Hassan Shehata’s men will get another chance to prove their prowess on 4 June, when they square off against the team presently sitting top of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, Spain. Taking on the European champions and one of the hot favourites for the FIFA World Cup will at least provide Egypt’s supporters with some solace after missing out on South Africa.

Regardless of how they fare in these friendlies, Egypt’s recent form means they will be sorely missed at the finals this year, especially by fans of the type of flowing football played by them in Angola and at last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup.