The Pharaohs of Egypt are known as the ‘pensioners’ of Africa Cup of Nations, they won the first ever AFCON tournament in Sudan (1957).
Egypt have not slacked since then and are now the most successful side in the Africa Cup of Nations with seven titles.
Javier Aguirre’s men make a return to the showcase after narrowly losing 2-1 to Cameroon in the 2017 final. They now have a big opportunity to clinch the trophy for the eighth time on home soil.
Twenty three appearances in 32 editions of the Africa Cup of Nations tournament is an amazing achievement but the country has not been without a rough patch. Egypt experienced its darkest period after the 2010 win, failing to qualify for the following three AFCONs (2012, 2013 and 2015).
After a massive change to the team that won their last tournament in 2010, Egypt now stand as one of the favourites to clinch the title in July. The Pharaohs are currently the 8th best team in Africa on the FIFA rankings and 58th overall.
This is something Aguirre, a decent Mexican player in his day, would want to improve. He’s had a lot of experience as a manager with some silverware along the way, notably winning the Mexican Primera Division with Pachuca in 1999 and the CONCACAF Gold Cup ten years later. He also steered Al-Wahda to the UAE President’s Cup (2017) and UAE League Cup (2016). Not major trophies, but he knows how to win things.
Egypt is the first African team Javier’s managed. In this current crop of Pharaohs, ‘El Vasco’ (as the coach is known) has a motley blend of experience and youth, who’ve played together for a while. His main concern, however, will be integrating Ayman Ashraf (10 caps), Ahmed Ayman Mansour (three), Mahmoud Hamdy (one), Mahmoud Alaa (four) and Baher El Mohammady (five) into the defensive setup to win the trophy.
Javier will be without the charismatic and legendary goalkeeper Essam El Hadary, who announced his retirement from the side after the 2018 World Cup.
How they qualified
Egypt were placed in Group J alongside Tunisia, Niger and Eswatini. They took the second position with 13 points, two behind Tunisia. The seven-time champions thrashed Niger by six unanswered goals and were held to a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture. They beat Eswatini 4-1 in the first fixture and won 2-0 in the reverse.
Tunisia handed Egypt their first and only defeat in the qualifier, beating them by a goal. Aguirre’s men had their revenge in their return, scoring thrice in a five-goal thriller. Egypt were named as hosts, replacing Cameroon on 8 January 2019. They had already secured a top two place and were assured of qualification, anyway.
Who’s in their group?
Egypt will battle for qualification to the next round against DR Congo, Zimbabwe and Uganda.
The weight of all of Egypt will once again fall on the shoulders of Mohammed Salah. The Liverpool winger had a stellar season for his club. He took home the golden boot with 22 goals in the English Premier League (same as Aubameyang and Mane) and also scored a penalty in the final that helped his side to win the coveted Champions League trophy. Salah was also the top scorer in Egypt’s qualification group with 4 strikes. He will hope to guide his teammates to the title on home soil after the disappointment two years ago.