You are here: HomeSports2017 08 25Article 573655

Sports Features of Friday, 25 August 2017


Egypt on the brink of World Cup qualification ahead of Ghana

Argentine Hector Cuper has been a coaching “bridesmaid” eight times and hopes the 2018 World Cup qualifying competition will finally bring a change of luck.

The 61-year-old was a losing finalist twice with Spanish clubs Valencia and Real Mallorca and once with Greek outfit Aris Thessaloniki and Egypt.

Cuper also coached Inter Milan in Italy and Huracan in Argentina to second-placed league finishes.

But he refuses to be weighed down by all those silver medals and dreams of taking Egypt to the World Cup in Russia to end a 28-year absence for the “Pharaohs”.

Cuper and his team have crucial back-to-back Group E clashes with Uganda looming - next Thursday in Kampala and the following Tuesday in Alexandria.

It is a mini-league where things have not gone entirely to plan with Ghana, expected to contest first place with Egypt, lying third after a draw and a loss.

Qualifying at the expense of the “Black Stars” would be particularly sweet for Egypt, who suffered a play-off loss to them in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

If you want to upset an Egyptian football supporter, mention Kumasi, a Ghanaian city where the Pharaohs were thrashed 6-1 in the first leg. Egypt won the return leg 2-1, but it was too little, too late, and US coach Bob Bradley was fired. His assistant, Shawky Gharieb, was elevated to one of the hottest managerial posts in Africa but did not last long.

Cuper was a surprise replacement, partly as he had been so near yet so far from glory so many times.

The only previous national team experience he had was with European “nobodies” Georgia.

Egypt officials told him to win a record-extending eighth Africa Cup of Nations in 2017, and a first since the “golden generation” completed a hat-trick seven years ago. They also demanded an end to the World Cup failures by claiming one of five places reserved for Africa in Russia.

Egypt finished runners-up to unexpected champions Cameroon in the Cup of Nations, losing the final in Libreville 2-1 to a late Vincent Aboubakar goal.

That left the World Cup and after surviving a fright from Chad in an eliminator, Egypt were grouped with Congo Brazzaville, Ghana and Uganda in a winners-take-all mini-league.

Victories away to Congo and at home to Ghana have them top of the table on six points, two more than Uganda.

While Uganda and Egypt square off, Ghana play Congo twice and believe two wins can get them back into contention for a fourth consecutive World Cup appearance.

Were the “Black Stars” to collect six points and Uganda and Egypt draw twice, the west Africans would be just one point behind the Pharaohs.

But it is difficult to image, even if two wins for Ghana over struggling Congo are certainly a possibility.

Evidence from the 2017 Cup of Nations in Gabon is that Egypt have improved dramatically under Cuper and good results have taken them to the top of the Fifa Africa rankings.

Expect the Pharaohs to draw in Kampala and win in Alexandria, moving them significantly closer to Russia and allowing Cuper to ditch that “bridesmaid” tag.

In another matchday 3 fixture next Thursday, pointless Group A pair Guinea and Libya clash in Conakry and only a victory will give either the slimmest chance of qualification.

Democratic Republic of Congo, whose last World Cup appearance was in 1974 as Zaire, and Tunisia share top spot on six points.