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Ghana and Egypt are among the strongest teams in Africa at the moment, and while this draw is a nightmare for two of the continent’s giants, it should make for two engrossing clashes for the neutral spectator.
The Black Stars demonstrated their big-game mentality during the group stage, overcoming Zambia in Kumasi to book their place in the play-off round.
Kwesi Appiah’s men are boosted hugely by the returns of four players who have the capacity to transform the side. The Ayew brothers, Andre and Jordan, come back into the fold along with Michael Essien, while the whiff of a World Cup on the horizon has brought Kevin-Prince Boateng out of his international retirement.
Adding these four to a team already containing Kwadwo Asamoah, Emmanuel Badu and Asamoah Gyan could make Ghana a devastating force, both immediately against Egypt and then among the bigger boys next summer.
One issue for the West African giants, however, might be the absence of solid centre-back pairing Jonathan Mensah and John Boye. Without these two, Ghana have an obvious point of weakness for Egypt to exploit.
The North Africans certainly have the firepower to damage their opponents, even in front of the partisan Kumasi crowd.
Mohamed Salah of FC Basel is one of Africa’s finest young forwards. He already has experience playing in the Europa League and in the Olympics, while his recent forays into the Champions League will only add to his menace.
Behind him, the veteran Mohamed Aboutrika (this author’s favourite African player of all time) remains one of the continent’s most irresistible creative talents. Few players in the game’s history deserve a place at the top table more than the Al Ahly talisman.
He, like American coach Bob Bradley, have been key figures in unifying and consolidating this Egyptian team in light of the dreadful trauma the nation has suffered, not to mention the suspension of the domestic league.
That Egypt have come this far, considering the violent upheaval that has savaged the nation, is remarkable. That they escaped the group with a 100 percent record represents a stunning achievement.
If they could go one step further and qualify for the international competition, it would truly represent one of Africa’s great sporting achievements—particularly considering the nation’s failure to add a silver lining to their dominant decade and make it to either of the last two tournaments.