Excitement in Egypt before Salah's Pharaohs take on Nigeria in Africa Cup of Nations

Ad campaign reflects nation's hopes for the record seven-time continental champions who last won in 2010

epa07649496 A man walks in front of a mural depicting Liverpool's Egyptian striker Mohamed Salah in Cairo, Egypt, 15 June 2019. The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) will take place from 21 June until 19 July 2019 in Egypt.  EPA/MOHAMED HOSSAM
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Ahmed Hegazy, the Egyptian centre-back, goes to the cinema but is turned away by the usher. “The film begins at 10 and finishes at midnight. You’ll be late going to bed and we have a championship coming up,” he tells the vexed Pharaohs defender. “Go home and sleep!”

Teammate Ahmed Abul Fetouh does not fare any better. He orders French fries at a restaurant, but the waiter brings him boiled vegetables instead. “Fries have too much fat, we have important matches coming up,” the waiter tells the protesting left-back.

Defender Mahmoud El Wensh also comes up against a wall of sorts. A car park attendant stops him from driving his muscle bike home. That could hurt his back or his hamstring, the centre-back is advised.

When El Wensh protests, the attendant snatches away his helmet. “Bring home the cup and you'll get your helmet back,” the player is firmly told.

While fictional, the three incidents come from a series of widely viewed ads for a major mobile service provider that is co-sponsoring the Pharaohs.

Under the logo 'We want it for the eighth time! Bring it home!', the campaign sums up the mood in Egypt ahead of the Pharaohs’ opener against Nigeria on Tuesday in the 24-nation, Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Cameroon.

The record seven-time winners Egypt have not won the tournament since 2010, when they lifted the trophy for a third consecutive time.

Their record has since been a mixed bag, but perhaps the Pharaohs’ last appearance in the tournament was one of their worst. They finished top of their group in the 2019 Afcon at home, but their unconvincing form was laid bare in the Round of 16, when South Africa embarrassed them with a shock result as the hosts made an early exit.

It is hard to tell how far the Pharaohs will go in Cameroon. Apart from Nigeria's Eagles, Sudan and Guinea-Bissau make up Group D. Portugal's Carlos Queiroz is managing this Egypt side.

The presence of Liverpool's prolific striker Mohamed Salah, one of the world’s best players, in the squad is something of a mixed bag.

His recent form with the Pharaohs has been less than impressive, paling in comparison to what he has been capable of doing for the Reds in both the Premier or Champions’ leagues this season. But Salah’s superstar status alone can be a game-changer regardless of his form.

“He is not a guaranteed ticket to lifting the trophy, but his present on the pitch alone costs time and effort from other teams to come up with a way to contain him,” says Egyptian football analyst Sabry Sirag.

“They put one or two defenders on him and that frees others to do what’s needed.”

The clash with Nigeria is important for the Pharaohs. A win would go a long way to secure finishing top of the group, provided that the minnows Sudan and Guinea-Bissau play by the form book.

Top perch in the group could also spare the Pharaohs a difficult clash in the knockouts against holders Algeria, who are expected to dominate Group E. The top two teams from each group advance to the Round of 16.

“The Nigeria match will to a large extent decide the road ahead for Egypt in the tournament,” says commentator Mahmoud El Makhbazi, while installing Algeria and Senegal as title favourites.

“But there are no guarantees given the coronavirus pandemic. Any team can lose key players to Covid-19, including Egypt.”

While the attention is mostly focused on Salah, a handful of players in the Egypt squad are expected to shine in the tournament. These include El Wensh, midfielders Hamdy Fathi and Akram Tawfik, and Omar Maramoush, the Stuttgart forward in Germany's Bundesliga.

Updated: June 10, 2023, 11:55 AM