Egypt coach guards against pressure of opener

January 19, 2006

CAIRO, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Hosts Egypt will look to set aside a heavy burden of expectation when they meet neighbours Libya in the opening game of this year's African Nations Cup on Friday.

With a capacity 78,400 crowd expected for the match at the refurbished Cairo International stadium, the pressure on Egypt to deliver a winning start will be enormous.

Coach Hassan Shehata warned on Wednesday that the match would be a hard baptism for his side.

'Libya will be tough but even tougher will be the pressure to win on our players,' he told reporters.

Egypt have been cloistered in a military camp as they finalise preparations with Shehata admitting he has problems in finalising his potentially influential midfield.

Injury to the Racing Strasbourg midfielder Hosni Abd Rabou has jeopardised his participation in the tournament and Mohamed Shawki, another key midfielder, is also doubtful for Friday's game.

The 16-team Nations Cup includes all five of Africa's representatives for the World Cup finals in Germany, making it arguably the most competitive yet in 25 editions of the tournament.

Libya return to the finals after a 24-year absence and are regarded as probable whipping boys in Group A.

'People think that we will finish in last place at this tournament but have big ambition to show a lot of them that they have been wrong about our team,' Libya's captain Tarek Tayeb told Reuters.

'We are looking to surprise many with the standard of our performance,' added the Turkish-based midfielder, whose own chances of playing in Friday's game are hampered by a muscle strain.

Libya coach Ilija Loncarevic has understated his side's chances, saying only they were hoping to deliver 'a good performance'.

They will be without defender Naji Shushan and striker Nader Kara, both suspended for the opening game, and leading goal scorer Ahmed Masli, who is out of the tournament with a back injury.

Egypt easily beat Libya at home during the qualifying competitions, when the two countries were also paired in the same group.

Organisers said a major security operation would be in place for the match, to be attended by Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.