Egypt will be defending a proud Africa Cup of Nations record when they kick off their 2017 campaign against Mali in Port-Gentil on Tuesday.
The Pharaohs have won the competition on each of their last three appearances in 2006, 2008 and 2010 and hold the overall record of seven titles.
Egypt have not qualified for the three editions since, but are back this time around after topping a tough qualifying group that included Nigeria.
They are fancied to go far in the tournament, boasting a squad featuring some high-profile players from European clubs and others with significant international experience.
Roma’s Mohamed Salah and Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Elneny complement Egypt stalwarts like Essam El-Hadary and Ahmed Fathy, both of whom have over 100 caps.
Mali, meanwhile, are looking to recover from a poor performance in the 2015 tournament, where they drew all three games before exiting in the group stage.
They finished third in both 2012 and 2013, but their lack of a star power – particularly in attack – could be their downfall in trying to match those performances.
Group D also includes Ghana – who are favourites to finish top of the pool – and under
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Mali – Moussa Marega
Without boasting a top-level forward like many of
the other nations in the tournament, Mali are reliant on one of their lesser-known stars shining.
Moussa Marega could be the man they turn to – the in-form 25-year-old has 10 goals in 12 league matches for Vitoria Guimaraes this season, having been loaned to the club from Porto.
Egypt – Mohamed Salah
Egypt have one of the tournament’s biggest stars at their disposal in Roma attacker Salah.
Finally playing at his first major tournament, the former Chelsea player will be relied up on to score and create for Egypt. He comes into the event with nine Roma goals to his name this season.
KEY OPTA STATS
– Egypt are unbeaten in their last 19 AFCON games (W15 D4), the longest run in the history of the tournament. Their last defeat dates back to January 2004 against Algeria (1-2).
– Egypt have also won each of their last nine games at the AFCON, again a record.
– All three of Mali’s group games in 2015 ended 1-1. They were knocked out following a drawing of lots after ending in a perfect tie with Guinea.
– Both teams have scored in each of Mali’s last seven AFCON games.
– Egypt boss Hector Cuper is taking charge at an AFCON for the first time.
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