African pride is at stake for Egypt who take on world champions Italy here on Thursday in the Confederations Cup after nearly pulling off a shock result against Brazil.
The Egyptians were unfortunate not to take at least a point off the defending champions in their opening Group B match, with a controversial last-minute penalty by Real Madrid’s Kaka crushing their hopes in a 4-3 defeat.
But Egypt’s second-half performance, in particular, was encouraging enough to suggest they can cause big problems for Italy, who conjured a spellbinding 3-1 over 10-man the United States on Monday.
Their Borussia Dortmund striker Mohamed Zidan, who scored twice against Brazil and was voted man-of-the-match, said it was important to demonstrate to the world that Africa has credible football teams.
“We wanted to have a decent game against Brazil and show the world African football is good enough to compete with the very best teams,” said the dangerman, who ran Brazil captain Lucio ragged.
“I think we showed everyone that we have fighting spirit and in my opinion we deserved to earn a point. We hope to do better against Italy.”
The Pharoahs’ coach Hassan Shehata, who usually shuns press conferences and leaves his deputy Shawky Gharib to do the talking, said pushing Brazil so hard showed that African teams have what it takes.
“Yes it is,” he replied when asked by goal.com whether it was an historic footballing day for his country, but he also said fans needed to be realistic.
“We thank God for this result, but we have to be reasonable. After all, we lost the match. Even so, we will gain motivation and all players believe now that there is no impossible in football.”
While Egypt, who are struggling in World Cup qualifying, need a result to stay in the competition, Italy can seal their place in the semi-finals with victory in Johannesburg.
But coach Marcello Lippi is wary of the African Nations Cup champions’ after they pushed Brazil so close.
“Egypt have won two African titles, I know the team well,” he said.
“I really like their coach, I like his way of managing his team — it’s going to be tough judging by how they played against Brazil.”
While Italy picked up no serious injuries against the United States, doubt still surrounds captain and defender Fabio Cannavaro, who missed that match with a calf strain.
Cannavaro is just two appearances away from matching the 126-cap Italian record of fellow defender Paulo Maldini.
Against the United States, Giuseppe Rossi starred for Italy by scoring a brace after coming off the bench, but it was only in the second half that they came alive.
Lippi, who admitted that nerves got the better of them early on, said they found their “peace of mind” at half-time.
“We found our peace of mind in the second half – ‘ooomph’ is not enough, you have to have peace of mind,” he said.
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