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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 February 2008, 20:38 GMT
Egypt defy doubters and odds
By Nick Cavell
BBC Sport, Ghana

Egypt coach Hassan Shehata
Egypt coach Hassan Shehata has rebuilt a decimated side
Despite being reigning Africa Cup of Nations champions, few Egypt fans would have predicted their team would contest the final in Ghana.

However, in defiance of all that doubt, the Pharaohs are now on the verge of claiming a sixth title with a second successful back-to-back defence.

They have made it this far in some style too, with a 4-1 demolition of pre-tournament favourites Ivory Coast in Thursday's semi-finals and a 4-2 win over finalists Cameroon in their opening Group C game.

After a relatively poor qualifying campaign, nothing was really expected from the team in Ghana, and fans are reported to be happy to make it as far as the final.

But during the tournament a togetherness has emerged which has yet to be matched by the other competing teams.

"We have a side that plays for each other and maybe even for me as coach," said coach Hassan Shehata.

"I think there is an understanding that we have, a special bond. I think we will win."

Mido has missed the Ghana Nations Cup through injury

The Pharaohs' unity could be attributed to their strong domestic league and the fact that many of the players in the squad are based on home soil.

"They prove that you don't need to play in Europe to be a top quality footballer - just look at midfielder Hosny Abd Rabou who has had a great tournament," said BBC World Service commentator Richard Connelly.

And in Shehata, they have a man who knows what he wants and how to achieve it, even if that means making tough decisions.

He famously substituted Mido in the semi-finals two years ago to the disgust of the star striker, only for his replacement Zaki to score with his first touch.

Shehata has also had to rebuild much of the team that won in 2006 due to unforeseen circumstances and injuries.

Rising star in the Egyptian game and 2006 medal winner, left-back Mohamed Abdul-Wahab, died of a heart defect during a training session in August 2006.

Key players such as 2005 BBC African Footballer of the Year Mohamed Barakat and striker Mido were both ruled out for the tournament through injury.

Farayi M - BBC World Service

And midfielder Hossam Ghaly decided not to travel to Ghana in order to complete his transfer to English Premier League side Derby.

The loss of such big names would trouble even the best teams in the world, but Egypt have shown they have a large pool of talent to call on.

Former Nigeria captain Sunday Oliseh, who made it to the final in 1994 and 2000 says the team element is key to the Pharaohs' success.

"I was surprised Egypt made it through the semi-finals because I really thought Ivory Coast had the capability to overcome them," he said.

"But it turns out that this Egyptian team is even stronger than we thought because not only did they play well, but they are stronger as a team than they are as individuals and that makes them very hard to beat."

Connelly added: "They're an exceptional team who are comfortable with the system they play; they all know their own responsibilities and what to expect from their team-mates."

Shehata is also looking to become only the second coach to win successive Nations Cup titles - the only other person to do it is Ghana's CK Gyamfi in 1963 and 1965.

Cameroon v Egypt
09 Feb 08 |  Africa Cup of Nations
Barakat out of Nations Cup
04 Jan 08 |  Africa Cup of Nations
Mido in Nations Cup fitness race
29 Nov 07 |  Africa Cup of Nations
Ghaly chooses Derby over Egypt
07 Jan 08 |  Africa Cup of Nations
Egypt include injured Saied
11 Jan 08 |  Africa Cup of Nations
Mido thrown out of Egyptian squad
08 Feb 06 |  Africa Cup of Nations


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