Impressive Egypt adjust sights to Cup of Nations
Egypt switch attention from the World Cup to the Africa Cup of Nations Friday when they host the Central African Republic behind closed doors in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.
The Pharaohs share with Tunisia the distinction of being the only 2014 World Cup hopefuls with perfect records after two rounds of mini-league action this month.
An expected 2-0 home win over Mozambique was followed by an unexpected 3-2 away win over Guinea through a brace from midfield talisman Mohamed Aboutrika and a late Mohamed Salah winner.
Egypt have reached the World Cup just once since Africa launched its own qualifying competition for the 1962 finals -- slim pickings given the North African nation have captured the Cup of Nations a record seven times.
"Every Egyptian dreams that we will qualify for the World Cup in Brazil," says former USA coach Bob Bradley, who succeeded Hassan Shehata after Egypt surprisingly failed to make the 2012 Cup of Nations finals.
"But now we must change our concentration toward the Cup of Nations and two matches against the Central Africa Republic. We made a good start in the World Cup and now we continue to work hard," he told domestic television.
The first leg 2013 qualifier against the Wild Beasts was scheduled for late February but had to be cancelled when rioting in Port Said after a league match involving local club Al Masry and Cairo giants Al Ahly claimed 74 lives.
Egyptian authorities have permitted only international fixtures since the tragedy with spectators barred, and the national team plays at the Borg El Arab military stadium in Alexandria to ensure security.
A lack of domestic football may have blunted the competitive edge of his largely local-based squad, but Bradley gets to spend far more time with his stars and numerous warm-up games were played in the Middle East and Sudan.
The American coach has recalled Belgium-based striker Mohamed Al Gabbas after a near three-year absence in place of unavailable Emad Moteab for a first round encounter likely to end in a home victory.
Central African Republic launched their World Cup campaign two weeks ago with a 2-0 home victory over Botswana only to lose by the same scoreline last Sunday away to Ethiopia.
The other 13 fixtures this weekend are second legs with former title holders Algeria, Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Nigeria among the sides in action.
DR Congo appear 'bankers' to reach the round of 30 having built a 4-0 lead in the Seychelles and it is hard to see Algeria or Cameroon failing after establishing one-goal advantages in the Gambia and Guinea-Bissau respectively.
Improving Congo Brazzaville take a 3-1 lead to Uganda, Nigeria enjoy home advantage over Rwanda after a goalless first encounter, and Ethiopia appear in gravest danger of elimination having been held 0-0 by Benin in Addis Ababa.
Benin and Ethiopia, often little more than African football cannon fodder, lead their World Cup groups with a win and a draw each and can boast in-form strikers in Razak Omotoyossi and Saladin Said.
The 16 participants in the Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea this year received byes into the final round scheduled for September and October and hosts South Africa qualify automatically.
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