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ALEXANDRIA: Egypt switch attention from the World Cup to the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) today when they host the Central African Republic behind closed doors.
The Pharaohs share with Tunisia the distinction of being the only 2014 World Cup hopefuls with perfect records after two rounds of mini-league action this month.
An expected 2-0 home win over Mozambique was followed by an unexpected 3-2 away win over Guinea through a brace from midfield talisman Mohamed About- rika and a late Mohamed Salah winner.
Egypt have reached the World Cup just once since Africa launched its own qualifying competition for the 1962 finals – slim pickings, given they have won Afcon a record seven times.
“Every Egyptian dreams that we will qualify for the World Cup in Brazil,” says former US coach Bob Bradley, who succeeded Hassan Shehata after Egypt surprisingly failed to make the 2012 Afcon finals.
“But now we must change our concentration toward the Cup of Nations and two matches against the Central Africa Republic. We made a good start in the World Cup and now we continue to work hard.”
The first leg 2013 qualifier against the Wild Beasts was scheduled for late February but had to be postponed when rioting in Port Said after a league match involving local club Al Masry and Cairo giants Al Ahly claimed 74 lives.
Egyptian authorities have permitted only international fixtures – with spectators barred – since the tragedy, So the national team play at the Borg El Arab military stadium in Alexandria to ensure security.
A lack of domestic football may have blunted the competitive edge of his largely local-based squad, but Bradley gets to spend far more time with his stars and numerous warm-up games were played in the Middle East and Sudan.
The American coach has recalled Belgium-based striker Mohamed Al Gabbas after a near three-year absence in place of unavailable Emad Moteab for a first-round encounter likely to end in a home victory.
The Central African Republic launched their own World Cup campaign two weeks ago with a 2-0 home victory over Botswana only to lose by the same scoreline on Sunday away to Ethiopia.
The other 13 fixtures this weekend are second legs with former title-holders Algeria, Cameroon, Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia and Nigeria among the sides in action.
The 16 participants in Afcon in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea this year received byes into the final round scheduled for September and October and hosts SA qualify automatically. – Sapa-AFP