Egypt are two games away from what could be their most impressive achievement, and what could be one of sport’s most remarkable stories. They take on Ghana Tuesday in the first leg of a play-off that could take them to their first World Cup since 1990.
The Pharaohs have come to this stage in Kumasi on the back of the only flawless campaign in Africa, winning six games out of six. They have done it in a time of intense political turmoil back home and with, effectively, no domestic league, intermittently suspended after the Port Said tragedy in February 2012.
“You know it is a huge country and all the people there love football,” the Hull City right-back Ahmed Elmohamady said.
“It is a huge, huge thing. Now we play in a qualifier for a World Cup, now we go against Ghana, just two games, home and away, and we have to win them. We have to all get together, concentrate on these two games, play them like the last two games of our life.”
Ghana are about as tough an opponent as they could have drawn; the Black Stars finished four points clear of the 2012 African Cup of Nations champions Zambia at the top of qualifying Group D. Ghana are aiming for a third successive trip to football’s biggest event, and they were quarter-finalists at South Africa 2010.
“Egypt are seven-time African champions and trying to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1990,” said Ghana’s coach Kwesi Appiah. “That will give them some added boost going into the game. Their record means that we cannot look down on them. We can’t get complacent. We have to prepare well and remain focused.”
Egypt, under the American coach Bob Bradley, have played all their games in Egypt behind closed doors because of security concerns. But that has not visibly affected them; if anything it has emboldened them.
“It’s not been difficult,” Elmohamady said. “There are things happening, of course, but we can play and know our fans are behind us. It has helped us, definitely.”
Something will have to give. Egypt have not lost a competitive game since June 2012 and Ghana have not lost at home since February 2012, an unbeaten run since of 11 matches.
8pm, Al Jazeera Sport 2