World Cup Qualifying: Real tests begin for Bradley
The match will be played at the Borg El Arab Stadium in the coastal city of Alexandria due to CAF’s World Cup sanctions on Cairo– forcing Egypt to play their first two home World Cup qualifiers at least 100km from the Cairo International Stadium, after the fiasco with Algeria during the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign.
Bradley has already led the Pharaohs in twelve friendlies since November, but this will be his first match on Egyptian soil. Despite the current political turmoil in the country, and the cancellation of the Egyptian Premier League following the Port Said tragedy, Egypt have looked impressive as of late. The squad have only tasted defeat once under Bradley, on his debut against Brazil in Qatar. Egypt’s record going into World Cup qualifying under the American is 9-2-1, scoring 27 goals, whilst only conceding 7.
Till now, Bradley has succeeded implementing an unfamiliar 4-2-3-1 system with the Pharaohs. League leaders Haras El-Hodoud (prior to cancellation) striker Ahmed Hassan Mekki is likely to be the tip of the attacking pyramid after managing to replicate club-form under Bradley; scoring 3 goals and assisting 2 in 10 appearances (only 4 starts). Mekki contributed to 13 goals in 14 appearances for the league leaders; 2nd top scorer with 9. Ironically, the league’s top scorer, ENPPI’s Ahmed Raouf, has been left out of the squad – after failing to impress during his few chances on the international stage.
In the past, youngsters have rarely featured for the national team. Under Bradley, the core of Egypt’s under-23 side, who all played in the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup and will also play in this summer’s Olympic Games in London, have become an integral part of the squad. Goalkeeper Ahmed El-Shenawy, centre-back Ahmed Hegazy, centre-midfielder Mohamed El-Nenny and left-winger Mohamed Salah (all 19-21 years-old) have impressed to the point where Bradley and Olympic Coach Hany Ramzy often engage in a tug-of-war over which camp the players will be involved in. Ahmed Hegazy, who’s recently been sold to Fiorentina, is expected to start alongside Ahmed Said ‘Okka’ in the heart of the back four. English-born Adam El-Abd, who plays for Brighton and Hove Albion in the Championship, recently made his debut for the Pharaohs but is ineligible to play as his passport documents haven’t been finalized. The most dangerous of the lot, Mohamed Salah, who’s recently signed for Swiss champions FC Basel has been Bradley’s top scorer with 5 goals, dishing out almost as many assists. He’s expected to start alongside the legendary Mohamed Abou-Treika, who Bob has recently convinced to back-track out of retirement following the tragic events in Port Said.
One point of concern is that the majority of the African opponents were either ‘minnows’ or depleted/domestic-based squads. Though, under Hassan Shehata, Egypt often flopped against the underdogs, Mozambique were never one of them. The last meeting between the two countries was during the 2010 African Cup of Nations; a wonder-strike from Mohamed Nagy ‘Gedo’ and an own goal was enough to seal a comfortable win for the Pharaohs. In fact, the Mambas have never scored a goal against Egypt in the total three previous meetings (all in previous editions of CAN).
Egyptian football fans won’t settle for anything less than a victory, and Bradley knows this. Memories of the 1-1 draw at home with Zambia during the 2010 WC qualifiers still linger in the minds of all the country’s fans. Those 2 points lost against the Chipolopolocould’ve booked Egypt a place to South Africa 2010. Let’s start on a high this time round, put aside politics for 90 minutes (plus injury time, at least) and get behind squad. As captain Ahmed Hassan says, “We all know Egypt has witnessed some unpleasant events recently and therefore we are determined to put a smile on the faces of Egyptian people by succeeding against Mozambique.”
Written by Adam Moustafa (@egyFt).
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