Soccer News of Wednesday, 18 September 2013
With Al Ain's prolific striker Asamoah Gyan spearheading Ghana's attack, Egypt could be forgiven for approaching their World Cup playoff with the Black Stars with more than a little trepidation.
After all, Ghana have starred in the last two editions – making the last 16 in Germany and the quarter-finals in South Africa – while Egypt’s last appearance at the football extravaganza came some 23 years ago at Italia '90.
But for The Pharaohs, drawing Ghana was far from the worst case scenario. In fact, Egypt international and Hull City defender Ahmed Elmohamady is relishing the prospect, relieved that they avoided North African rivals Tunisia and Algeria.
“I felt really optimistic when I found out,” Elmohamady told Sport360°. “I was expecting a North African country to be honest so when we got Ghana I felt really positive.
“We have a decent record against African teams like Ghana and don’t forget we beat them 1-0 in the African Cup of Nations final in Angola in 2008.
"I get the sense that just like North African teams have this strange stronghold on us, we have that effect on the other African countries (from central and southern Africa).”
The Pharaohs boasted a 100 per cent record in qualifying - the only team to do so - and the Bob Bradley-led squad have a solid record against Ghana, with 10 wins, five draws and six losses in their past meetings.
When asked how the rest of the team felt about the draw, Elmohamady added: “We are all in an optimistic mood and they share my views that it’s a good thing that we have avoided a North African derby. We all feel that we know how to deal with the other African teams. We know this is do or die and we will be focused.”
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But that’s not to say Elmohamady is unaware of the magnitude of the task at hand. Egypt suffered a 3-0 defeat to Ghana in a friendly early this year in Abu Dhabi on the eve of the African Cup of Nations and the Black Stars are ranked some 26 places higher than their 50th-placed opponents
With the league suspended in Egypt for security reasons and a curfew still in place across the country, the home fixture might be played outside Cairo, the capital, and behind closed doors.
But the Egyptian FA are working hard to remedy the situation and Elmohamady believes a Cairo match in front of the home fans could prove crucial in their bid to make next summer's finals in Brazil.
“It’s a fact that Ghana are the strongest in the continent, they are very solid technically. But we are also lucky that we are playing the second match at home and I am really hoping that it gets played in Cairo and that they allow us to play in front of our fans not behind closed doors. That’s the real hope,” he says.
The tie will reunite Elmohamady with good friend and former team-mate, Gyan, who captains Ghana, and the 26-year-old knows the threat he poses more than anyone.
“Asamoah is really special. I’ve known since that final in Angola. He’s a true headache to all defenders. And then I got to know him more when we played together at Sunderland,” he says. “He’s very smart and I hope Wael Gomaa can handle him well in both games.
“He’s definitely one of the best on the team and the coach depends on him a lot so does the entire squad. He is their No1 striker. Hopefully we can focus enough to deal with the matches in the right way.”
The first leg will be played in Ghana between October 11-15 while the second leg heads to Egypt between November 15-19.
Meanwhile, Elmohamady has revealed that the Egypt could head to Dubai for a five-day training camp before flying to Accra for the opening match.
“There’s a suggestion that we might come to Dubai on the 9th or 10th of October for a few days before we head to Ghana. The idea is to prepare in some tough weather conditions, similar to what we’ll experience in Ghana,” he explained.