We are favourites for African Nations Cup: Egypt coach, Latest Football News - The New Paper

We are favourites for African Nations Cup: Egypt coach

Aguirre says seven-time Nations Cup champs have home advantage and Salah

African Nations Cup hosts Egypt are confident of defeating Zimbabwe in the opening match of a tournament expanded to 24 teams and staged in mid-year for the first time.

Egypt lie 51 places higher on the world rankings ahead of tomorrow morning's (Singapore time) Group A clash, top the title betting at 5/1 with Zimbabwe 150/1, and have won three of the four previous Nations Cup they hosted.

"We are the favourites to win the 2019 Africa Cup," said 60-year-old coach Javier Aguirre, the first Mexican to guide the record seven-time champions.

"Egypt are playing at home, can count on passionate support and have Mohamed Salah, the best footballer in Africa."

Salah has returned home after another stellar season with Liverpool, completing it by scoring the first goal in a 2-0 Champions League final triumph over Tottenham Hotspur.

His 22 English Premier League goals last season gave him a share of the Golden Boot award with two fellow Africans, Senegal's Sadio Mane and Gabon's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Aguirre says fears that his talisman may be jaded after a long season of Premier League and Champions League football are unfounded.

"Mohamed took a holiday after the Champions League final, did not play in our first warm-up match and came on only after half-time in the second," he said.

Egypt beat fellow qualifiers Tanzania and Guinea, and what pleased Aguirre most was not the results, but the large number of chances the Pharaohs created.

"We had about 20 chances to score against the Tanzanians and almost as many against the Guineans. That is very encouraging."

He also dismissed the view that Egypt rely too heavily on Salah, saying: "We have selected 23 footballers who are totally committed to the cause of winning the Nations Cup.

"It is impossible for one footballer to win (a tournament) on his own. Mohamed will receive tremendous support from his teammates.

"All the players are mentally and physically ready, and we look forward to beginning our campaign with a victory over Zimbabwe."

The countries have met only once in a Nations Cup, with Egypt winning 2-1 in Tunisia 15 years ago and both teams were eliminated after the first round.

Zimbabwe coach and former captain Sunday Chidzambwa was keeping his thoughts to himself ahead of the opener.

But captain and forward Knowledge Musona, who plays in Belgium, stressed that they must not become obsessed by Salah, despite the huge threat he poses.

"We must not just stop Salah, we must stop all the Egyptians. If we concentrate on only one, others will destroy us," Musona warned.

"My boys must be prepared to contest every loose ball, defend and attack in numbers, and take our scoring chances."

Group winners and runners-up qualify for the knockout second round, along with the best four of the six third-placed finishers. - AFP