The Sunday Mail
Robson Sharuko in CAIRO, Egypt
EGYPTIAN assistant coach Tito Garcia has suggested the Warriors will be dealing with a world-class player in the calibre of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo when they face Mohamed Salah in the opening 2019 AFCON finals opener at the Cairo International Stadium on Friday.
The extremely-gifted Egyptian forward is now targeting the Nations Cup silverware after helping Liverpool win the UEFA Champions League last season.
Salah did not play for the Pharaohs when they struggled to beat Tanzania 1-0 in an international friendly here on Friday after arriving in camp later than others following his Champions League heroics.
“Sure, Salah is a great player and he is currently in the top rank alongside Messi and Ronaldo, but we also have other players who can be like him one day,’’ Garcia told Time Sport TV channel.
“Five years ago Salah was not who he is today. Egypt have highly-skilled and young players and if they remained at the same level we could have other players like Salah.
“We as a team try to score from the first minute, but if we fail like what happened against Tanzania, we will need full support from our fans. We should be together always.“It was an ordinary friendly match ahead of the African Cup. The game started strong with an attacking strategy, but after 60 or 70 minutes the performance declined and that is normal since we train twice daily. “We played very well in the first half, but we didn’t create strong chances against the goal. It was the first match amid our current programme to prepare the players physically, especially those who are exhausted after ending the season recently. “We know that we are among the favourites to win the tournament, especially since we are playing at home and among our fans.‘’There are five or six other favourites like Senegal, Nigeria, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, but we are playing in Cairo and we will do our best to win the title.’’ Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has rallied the Pharaohs to represent their country with pride and honour.
The general expectation around the world is that the Warriors will wilt under the pressure of the 80 000-seater fortress of the Pharaohs, a bastion of Egyptian football aristocracy, where the team returns for the first time, after a lengthy absence from their spiritual home, because of political issues.
The Pharaohs, record winners of the Nations Cup title, have been forced to play most of their international home matches, including a 2014 World Cup qualifier against the Warriors where they needed a controversial last-gasp penalty to win 2-1, in Alexandria because of concerns of such matches being held here in Cairo.
But the return of the AFCON bandwagon means the Pharaohs will be able to play in their Cairo International Stadium fortress – the same stadium which hosted an ill-fated World Cup qualifier against the Warriors whose outcome, a 1-2 defeat for the visitors, was annulled by FIFA. President El-Sisi paid the team a visit at their training session and urged them to make their nation proud once again.
According to an official statement from Egyptian Presidential spokesman, Bassam Rady, President El-Sisi told the Pharaohs he was aware they were conscious of their responsibilities to their country and urged them to play to cheer the spirits of their nation.
The President also stressed the importance of the team’s discipline and said their performance and conduct should highlight the values of Egyptians and a success story in the tournament would provide the fitting conclusion to the efforts the country has invested in to host the first 24-team AFCON finals.
In return, the players said they will do all they can to make the country happy and they received the backing of Cameroonian legend, Samuel Eto’o, who said he expects the Pharaohs and his Indomitable Lions to battle in the final for the 2019 Nations Cup.
Etoó was speaking at a media conference held here by Etisalat Misr to launch the ‘’Africa Service,’’ as part of the company’s sports platform.
Salah’s presence in the Pharaohs’ line-up, said Etoó, made them a very strong side.
“Everyone knows who will win the championship,” Eto’o said. “The Egyptian team is strong and capable of delivering a good tournament. Egypt has the home advantage and is led by star Mohamed Salah,” he said.