Egypt abuzz with excitement as Afcon gets underway


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A historic Africa Cup of Nations begins Friday and how apt that it will be staged in Egypt.

The tournament will feature an expanded 24 teams from the 16 that have fought for glory since 1996 and will be hosted by a nation that has staged the biennial African football jamboree four times before.

The teams are grouped in six pools of four teams each playing in a round robin with the top two from each pool qualifying for the round of 16 together with the four third best losers.

One can almost sense an air of anticipation and tension too on the streets of Cairo.

The opening match pitting Egypt’s Pharaohs against the Warriors of Zimbabwe comes just days after the death of former president Mohamed Morsi and there is a noticeable high presence of both uniformed and civilian police.

In fact, many roads, particularly those leading to the Cairo International Stadium that will host the first of 52 tournament matches, are lined with police men, spaced out approximately 20 metres on both sides of the road.

A decidedly very visible security presence that assures the visitor and resident alike that safety is being taken seriously.

The Local Organising Committee has also introduced a new ticketing system with security in mind where fans have to register their details when acquiring a ticket.

The tone of the tournament will certainly be set by how the hosts perform against Zimbabwe.

And whereas there is little at Cairo International Airport to announce the tournament save for small flags of the 24 participating nations fluttering in the facility and a billboard at the exit past immigration, the regular man on the street is pumped up with anticipation.

“You think Egypt can win the match?” my taxi man, invariably called Ahmed asked as soon as the topic of Afcon came up.

“Egypt won the 2006 edition as host,” was the retort.

“We have (Mohammed) Salah, we cannot lose,” Ahmed said. “We will win it, but Senegal are also strong,” said Zaki a journalist.

Radio stations have been hyping up the tournament and a majority of Egyptians are certainly aware of the 2019 Afcon.

The main press Centre at Cairo International Stadium was a beehive of activity as journalists chased after that precious accreditation card.

Kenya’s Harambee Stars, that have continued to quietly train at their base in New Cairo, were paid a surprise visit by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa and Kenya’s Ambassador to Egypt Joff Otieno. Raila challenged to the team to rise to the occasion this time round.

“Countries smaller and poorer than Kenya have done better than us. Just relax and show no tension.”

Raila said he was happy with the preparations made by the team and the coach and urged Kenyans to continue sending goodwill messages to the squad. He also conveyed President Uhuru Kenyatta’s greetings to the team.

The opposition leader said he will watch Kenya’s opening Group C match against Algeria on Sunday. He announced that Sports CS Amina Mohamed would arrive in Egypt today and also visit the team.

Kenya are staying at the spacious Tiba Rose Hotel and will play all their matches at the adjacent 30 June Stadium.