Egypt will only have themselves to blame if they fail to progress to the second round. In contrast to their tough first round qualifying group for Germany 2006, when they found themselves up against Côte d'Ivoire and Cameroon, the Pharaohs have managed to avoid bumping into any other continental giants for the time being. At least on paper, neither Congo DR, Malawi nor Djibouti possess anything like the wealth of talent enjoyed by Egypt, who will be relying on the tacit understanding of a squad dominated by Al Ahly players.
The CAF Africa Cup of Nations 2006 served to demonstrate the pedigree of reigning continental champions Egypt, who are captained by RSC Anderlecht playmaker Ahmed Hassan. As the Pharaohs' closest rivals, Congo DR harbour strong ambitions despite the departure of experienced French coach Claude Le Roy, who came close to taking the Leopards all the way to the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Although they boast a talented line-up, their ever-present logistical problems could derail a campaign which will once more excite fervent popular support in Kinshasa. As for Malawi and Djibouti, the chances of staging an upset are slim although they will be dreaming of a miracle.
The favouritesEgypt: Egypt qualified without difficulty for the Africa Cup of Nations Ghana 2008, where they will defend their title. Head coach Hassan Shehata can bank on the experience accumulated by his contingent of players from Al Ahly, the 2005 and 2006 African champions and 2007 vice-champions. In fact, only five members of the squad play outside of Egypt, including stars Hassan and Mido.
The outsidersCongo DR: On the face of it, the Leopards are the only team likely to threaten the supremacy of Egypt. They are ambitious and can count on a large squad, even if they lack strength in depth. Congo DR were on course for qualification to the 2006 FIFA World Cup up until the final few days, securing four victories, four draws and only two losses, and finished five points behind Ghana but ahead of South Africa. On this showing, European-based stars Lomana Lua-Lua and Shabani Nonda have every reason to believe their side can secure a best runners-up spot.
The players to watchShabani Nonda (CDR), Lua-Lua (CDR), Ahmed Hassan Mido (EGY), Mohamed Zidan (EGY).
A date for your diaryCongo DR-Egypt: The Pharaohs can help cement their qualification by getting a result in Kinshasa, especially since few would bet on Egypt's rivals snatching a point in the intimidating atmosphere of Cairo. Nevertheless, Congo DR's fervent home support could provide a stern test for the five-time kings of Africa.
A look backEgypt2-3Zaire,9 March 1974,Cairo. The year 1974 was undoubtedly a high point in the history of Congolese football. Zaire, as they were then known, fought back from a 1-0 deficit in the Final of that year's CAN to beat Egypt 3-2 on their own ground. A few months after securing the continental title, Zaire made their first and only appearance in the FIFA World Cup, at Germany 1974.
The stat17: the number of years since Egypt's last participation in the finals of a FIFA World Cup. After debuting in 1934, the Pharaohs waited until Italy 1990 before returning to the international limelight. Since then, their success in the Africa Cup of Nations has done little to make up for their absence from the world's premier footballing stage.
Did you know?If there is one side for whom home advantage constitutes a clear advantage it is Egypt, whose opponents surely lack the experience and composure to plunder a result in Cairo and stop the Pharaohs from running riot on home turf.
Who will emerge as the top scorer in a group which boasts such attacking talent such as Mido, Lua-Lua and Nonda? Click on "Add your comment" and have your say!