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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 October 2005, 23:11 GMT 00:11 UK
Group A: Egypt seek home win
Compiled by Farayi Mungazi

EGYPT

EGYPT FACT FILE
Nickname: The Pharaohs
Coach: Hassan Shehata
Captain: Ahmed Hassan
Nations Cup record: Winners 1957, 1959, 1986 & 1998; Qualified 20 times

The Pharaohs have won the Nations Cup title four times - an achievement matched only by Ghana and Cameroon.

They will be appearing in their 20th Nations Cup finals but are very much a side looking to rediscover their old magic.

No one disputes that recent results have raised serious doubts about Egypt's ability to compete with the best.

Egypt faced Libya and the Ivory Coast in the World Cup/Nations Cup qualifying rounds and managed just one victory - losing away to their North African neighbours and home and away to the Elephants.

But, as everyone knows, it always takes something special to beat the Pharaohs in their own backyard, where they win almost twice as often as they do away.

The Egyptians have won two of their four African titles on home soil - the 1959 edition and again in 1986.

Ahmed 'Mido' Hossam
Egyptian supporters expect plenty of goals from Mido
Key players: In Ahmed 'Mido' Hossam, they have a striker who can change the course of a game at the drop of a hat.

His strength is mainly in the air, but he is also very comfortable with the ball at his feet and has a keen eye for goal.

Mohamed Barakat, the 2005 BBC African Footballer of the Year, is also set to be one of the biggest attractions in the tournament.

Barakat has been in electrifying form in the last 18 months, helping his Cairo-based club Ahly to the African Champions League title and a remarkable 55-game unbeaten run.

Verdict: If Egypt somehow fail against Libya - and it is not inconceivable that the curse of the opening game could hit - then the tournament could be as dead as a dodo.

Fears abound that if the hosts make an early exit, then interest in the competition would wane. But it is difficult to imagine the Pharaohs not at least making the semi-finals.


LIBYA

LIBYA FACT FILE
Nickname: the Greens
Coach: Ilija Loncarevic
Captain: Tarek El Taib
Nations Cup record: Second appearance in finals

If you were to ask most people what they know about Libya, chances are they will mention oil, camels, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and/or his football-mad sons.

The Libyans do not have a credible footballing tradition to talk about, but they have achieved some spectacular results in the past.

Of the 16 finalists in Egypt, only the Greens can boast an unbeaten record at the tournament.

They won two and drew the other three matches in their previous appearance 24 years ago on home soil.

Thanks to enthusiastic investment of petro-dollars by Al-Saadi Gaddafi, the North Africans are an improving lot.

They qualified on the strength of home results, so it will be interesting to see how they fare in Egypt.

They have already surpassed the wildest dreams of many of their supporters by qualifying for Egypt 2006.

Libya are coached by Ilija Loncarevic, a Croatian. On their day, they can be a revelation and surprise the mighty, as they did in holding Cameroon to a 0-0 draw and beating Egypt 2-1 in the qualifiers.

Libya's return to the Nations Cup finals for the first time since hosting the tournament in 1982 gives them a platform to raise their profile after years in the political and football wilderness.

The Libyans are doubtless eager to stuff the 'no-hopers' tag down the throats of their critics but their squad of home-based players has limited experience in international football.

Tarek El Taib
Libya's hopes rest on the shoulders of captain Tarek El Taib
Key player: Star players are at a premium in this team.

And with all due respect to the Libyans, enjoy the silky skills of captain Tarek El Taib while you can, because he will not be around for very long.

Verdict: Even the most optimistic of Libyans knows that they are not going to be crowned African champions, so it is all about defending the pride of their country.

They are the weakest team in Group A and will almost certainly pick up the wooden spoon. But if ever a team had everything to gain and nothing to lose, Libya is that country.


Nickname: The Atlas Lions
Coach: Mohammed Fakhir
Captain: Talal El Karkouri
Nations Cup record: Winners 1976; Qualified 12 times

MOROCCO

A young Moroccan team coached by the 1986 African Footballer of the Year, Badou Zaki, exceeded expectations by reaching the final of the 2004 Nations Cup.

The Atlas Lions lost 2-1 against an inspired Tunisia following a goalkeeping howler from the hitherto dependable Khalid Fouhami.

This time around the Moroccan players must be feeling like a syndicate which won the lottery but lost the ticket after failing to qualify for the World Cup.

The Atlas Lions were the only unbeaten team in the qualifiers, yet lost out on a World Cup place to Tunisia.

This has left self-belief in short supply and critics who dismiss their chances of winning have plenty of good arguments.

The dreams of the Moroccan camp will no doubt depend on the motivational qualities of Mohammed Fakhir, who was named coach on the final day of 2005.

Fakhir, who steered Royal Armed Forces to victory in the 2005 Confederation Cup, replaced the much-travelled Frenchman Philippe Troussier.

Troussier was fired just two months into the job by officials who claimed the so-called White Witchdoctor did not share their goals for the national team.

The Moroccan squad is high on talent, with several stars earning a living in Europe's top leagues, and many of the players who came so close to conquering the continent two years ago will be on parade in Egypt.

But for the Atlas Lions to roar their way to Nations Cup glory, the 52-year-old Fakhir must find answers to the inconsistencies that ruined Morocco's World Cup campaign.

Talal El Karkouri
Talal El Karkouri's defensive acumen is crucial to Morocco's cause
Key players: Talal El Karkouri lends solidity to the defence while Holland-based Tarik Sektoui is a midfield workhorse.

Marouane Chamakh, who plays for Bordeaux in France, is a striker with the vision to create openings and execute goals.

Verdict: Although Egypt and the Ivory Coast are difficult opponents, the Atlas Lions have the ability to finish ahead of at least one of them.

Their pride wounded by World Cup failure, how Morocco will fare could really be anybody's guess, but it is well within their power to top the group and go as far as the final.


IVORY COAST FACT FILE
Nickname: The Elephants
Coach: Henri Michel
Captain: Didier Drogba
Nations Cup record: Winners 1992; Qualified 16 times

IVORY COAST

A proud football nation, the Ivory Coast has not achieved much on the big stage since winning the African Nations Cup title in 1992.

The Ivorians will be the first to admit that they have under-performed for the considerable talent at their disposal.

Each time much is expected of them and each time, they seem unable to deliver the goods.

They have one of the best squads on paper but as someone pointed out a long time ago, the game is played on grass. It is a cliché, I know, but it is also true.

After a humiliating first round exit at the 2000 finals - which saw the players briefly detained by the country's military rulers - the Elephants fared no better in 2002.

The 1992 African champions then sunk to new depths when they failed to even qualify for the 2004 tournament in Tunisia.

That said, the talk in the Ivorian camp is of a different mentality this time around. Confidence is sky-high after qualifying for next year's World Cup finals.

Defeat to Cameroon in their penultimate World Cup qualifier is the only aberration in an 18-month run of success that earmarks the Elephants as one of the teams to beat in Egypt.

Didier Drogba
Didier Drogba is renowned for his sledge-hammer effect on defenders
Key players: There is some real talent in this team. Kolo Toure has established himself as one of the best centre-backs in the English Premiership.

Didier Zokora is a highly-rated midfielder who will surely use the Nations Cup to display his immense talent.

In Didier Drogba, they possess a proven goalscorer and in a group as tight as this, that could make all the difference.

Drogba's 16-goal partnership with livewire Aruna Dindane was the cornerstone of the team's success in the qualifying campaign.

Verdict: Organised and hard-working without being spectacular, the Ivorians are desperate to regain a place among the African football elite, and would certainly be gutted if they flew out on the first plane home.

If the players do not crumble under the weight of expectation, the Ivory Coast could be crowned African champions for only the second time in their history.


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