It must be music to our ears when we hear how wary our rivals are of us in next year s Confederations Cup in South Africa. In last week s draw, Egypt was paired in a group that has past and present World Cup champions Brazil and Italy. That should make us quiver with fear, but look who s shaking. Read the quotes:
Brazilian coach Dunga: I saw some games for Egypt and I liked the way they play. They have a good team which can t be underestimated.
Italian coach Marcello Lippi: Do not forget, Egypt is a very dangerous side in that competition.
It s nice to know that your opponents are taking you seriously, especially when they don t really have to. Brazil are Brazil. What more can you say? They have won this Confederations Cup twice, the World Cup a record five times and have gone to every World Cup ever held. They are the team of stylish play, dizzying skills and dazzling stars. Right now they are not the world champions, but they are the acknowledged kings of soccer anyway and they are the yardstick against which all players and countries measure themselves. Is there any kid out there who has not dreamt of playing for or against Brazil? In the 1960s Brazil and Egypt squared off five times. Four friendlies, all played in Egypt, were won by Brazil. We tied them once, in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. With four World Cups, including the current one, Italy are right behind Brazil. They are making their first appearance in the Confederations Cup, and will want to prove to everyone that they are still the team that conquered the world in Germany two years ago.
The Pharaohs faced the Azzuri in 1920, 1928, 1953 and 1954. We lost every one, including an 11-3 mauling.
Don t forget the US, which are also in our group. We play America last but they are not least. This is the third Confederations Cup for the US and they finished third in the first two.
Twice we met the red, white and blue. In the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles we tied them 1-1 before beating them 3-1 in 1987.
We re not afraid of any of these teams. Now hear us.
Egypt s coach Hassan Shehata: We are also a big team. We can challenge the giants. We are used to playing against big teams.
Egypt s former coach Mahmoud El-Gohari: Egypt will occupy one of the first two spots in their group.
Look who s talking? El-Gohari is one of the finest coaches in Egypt s history but he was in charge of Egypt when we made our Confederations Cup debut in 1999 in Mexico and what a disaster that was. We did exceptionally well to tie Bolivia, then Mexico, but we imploded after Saudi Arabia exploded against us 5-1. The crushing defeat against another Arab country we normally run rings around was so humiliating that the entire Egyptian Football Federation was told to either resign or be fired. They chose to quit before getting the axe.
As for those big teams Shehata referred to — Argentina, Spain and Portugal — we lost every one by 2-0 scores. He was at the helm each time.
Still, we should not be counted out. We have won back-to-back African titles, a record six in all. We might yet upset the big boys. We might be able to go toe-to-toe with world football s heavyweights. We might be capable of claiming the crown on our home continent. But there are many mights in the scenario. And might as in may does not mean might as in strength . We re strong but Brazil and Italy are simply stronger.
Like we said it s nice that we re being taken seriously, but the feeling is that we re taking ourselves a bit too seriously.
In sports, confidence is everything Overconfidence gets you nowhere. After the draw, our football officials should have shown more realism, less haughtiness and toned down the bravado quotes. What were the thoughts of Iraq s coach Jorvan Vieira when he was paired with the much weaker Confederations Cup Group A of South Africa, Spain and New Zealand? I don t have a reason to be happy.