Egypt, Nigeria begin African Cup of Nations quest

Egypt, Nigeria begin African Cup of Nations quest

CAIRO: The cafe workers pass through the tables, handing out coffee, water-pipes and tea, but their eyes steal glances at the television. The African Cup of Nations has begun and Egyptians are already enthralled by the possible three-peat Egypt could achieve. The Pharaohs, fresh off disappointment after not punching their ticket to South Africa this summer, are geared up for the opening clash with perennial African power Nigeria in the opening match of Group C in Angola.

“We are really looking to at least make up for the sadness and frustration after losing to Algeria and not making it to the World Cup. We believe we are a good team and hopefully they won’t let us down,” said Omar Hassan, a 29-year-old banker in Cairo. He, like millions of Egyptians, will have their eyes glued to the television later Tuesday as the kickoff to Egypt’s quest for a third straight African cup kicks off.

Both Nigeria and Egypt have towering credentials in the biennial continental championship, with Egypt having an edge over Nigeria, having won the title a record six times compared to Nigeria’s two.

The Eagles of Nigeria were champions in the 1980 competition held in Lagos and the 1994 tournament in Tunisia.

Egypt will have an uphill task, however, as they have not beaten Nigeria since 1963, when Nigeria made their debut appearance in the tournament. Egypt won that match 6-3, but since that battle, the two nations have played an additional 6 times, with Nigeria winning three and three draws.

Ironically, for the two African powerhouses, the last time they played at this level was 16 years ago in Tunisia, where their last match in the group ended scoreless with the Nigerians going on to lift that year’s tournament.

But, for Egyptians, this is the beginning of redemption, says Hassan, who felt jilted by the failure to achieve a ticket to South Africa for this June’s World Cup.

“We should have beaten the teams we were supposed to, but we didn’t and that means we are out and have to focus on the tournament in hand. Just look at what happened to Algeria. Any team can win on any day,” he said.

He was referring to Algeria’s surpise demolishing at the hands of lowly Malawi 3-0. The match has highlighted the gulf that had existed in African football is continuing to narrow. Hassan believes that after Egypt’s ousting from the World Cup, they should be prepared for the match at hand and not take anything for granted.

Time will tell as Egypt and Nigeria get down to business.