Pharaohs seek to rule again
© AFP

Egypt may have won the last two CAF Africa Cup of Nations titles but their current squad's biggest task is still ahead of them as they push for qualification at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ finals. Their confidence has been given a major boost as they climbed up to a record position in the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, advancing a place to 15th.

The Pharaohs face an action packed 12 months, as they are not only competing in the final phase of African qualifying for South Africa 2010, but also trying to defend the continental crown which they claimed in Ghana in February 2008.

A third successive continental triumph in Angola next January would be a unique achievement in the history of the competition and would surely see them ranked as Africa's top side. However, almost 20 years have now passed since Egypt last qualified for a FIFA World Cup.

Their rise in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking suggests the team are well on course to achieving that and exorcising their ghosts, although they will have some tough matches to get through first. Egypt are one of only two climbers in the top 20 in the January rankings, which were released on Wednesday. Their position is one below Cameroon, the top ranked African side, and perennial challengers for continental honours.

Since defeating the Indomitable Lions in February of last year, the Pharaohs have won six of their nine matches, including a hard fought away win in Kinshasa over DR Congo. The victory confirmed their place in the final phase of the African qualifiers for the 2010 world finals.

Egypt capped off a wonderful 2008 with an emphatic win over Benin in a friendly. They have also announced plans for a further warm-up game against Zambia in Cairo at the end of March, before the resumption of their qualifying campaign.

Egyptian coach Hassan Shehata has an array of talented players to choose from, with many having experience at the highest level. They have had to do without the injury-plagued Ahmed 'Mido' Hossam, but have been buoyed by the impressive form that has seen Amr Zaki notch 11 goals for Wigan Athletic so far this season.

Zaki has been one of the finds of the English Premier League's current campaign and combined with the backbone of the all-conquering Al Ahly side, they will give Egypt a great chance of making 2009 another year to remember.