Egypt U-20s (EGY)
Egypt have qualified for four of the last five FIFA U-20 World Cups, playing in every single edition since 2001 save for 2007. That impressive track record has proven the sophistication of the youth development programmes in the north African country, who have played a total of six tournaments since their first appearance in Australia in 1981, exactly 30 years ago. Egypt hosted the last FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2009 but were eliminated in the Round of 16. Ironically their best performance to date came thousands of miles from home in arguably one of the more hotly contested past tournaments in Argentina in 1991, when they finished third. In their six tournament appearances, only twice have they not been able to progress to the knockout phase.
There were many neutral observers who felt Egypt were the best football playing side at the African Youth Championships earlier this year, where they clinched qualification to the tournament in Colombia by reaching the last four. However the team had several anxious moments along the way, including a first round defeat by Mali, and a winner-takes-all game against hosts South Africa that they eventually took 1-0 to qualify. Egypt then had Cameroon on the back foot in their semi-final but failed to finish them off, and were then eliminated amidst protests over a pair of penalties that were re-taken in the penalty shoot-out. However, they bounced back to finish third by beating Mali 1-0.
Goalkeeper Ahmed El Shenawi and midfieler Mohamed Hamdy are among the key players, and midfielder Mohamed Ibrahim has the potential to become a regular full international. A Colombia 2011 pairing with hot favourites Brazil has been welcomed by an ambitious and self assured Egyptian side, whose coach says he sees it as a challenge rather than a reason to feel pressured. “I will assemble my team and get ready for the challenges,” said Diaa El Sayed. “I only need enough time to prepare, study my opponents and make ourselves ready for the championships.” Egypt will certainly be able to take the Brazilians on in moving the ball around but might need to sharpen their play at the ends of the pitch to spring a surprise.