When Mohamed Salah leads Egypt into the Africa Cup of Nations next month, The Pharaohs will be striving for a record-lengthening eighth continental crown.
It is a quite astonishing record, with three of those seven titles coming consecutively during a historic and fanciful four-year period.
Beating all that came before them, Egypt won three consecutive AFCONs against all the odds and, as we look ahead to the 2021 edition in Cameroon, Sportsmail takes you through how the North African country achieved sustained success beyond their wildest dreams.
Egypt won the Africa Cup of Nations three times in a historic period from 2006-2010
Mohamed Salah and Co will be looking to win the 2021 title, and Egypt’s eighth, in Cameroon
2006 – EGYPT’S RUN TO THE TITLE
Group-stage: W 3-0 vs Libya, D 0-0 vs Morocco, W 3-1 vs Ivory Coast – 1ST
QFs: W 4-1 vs DR Congo
SFs: W 2-1 vs Senegal
Final: D 0-0 vs Ivory Coast, W 4-2 pens
The year Egypt hosted the competition brought about a unique opportunity for a largely unknown group of players.
Out of the 23-man squad, only three played outside of their homeland, one of which was Tottenham Hotspur forward Mido, who was undoubtedly his country’s star man heading into the competition.
Besiktas midfielder Ahmed Hassan – who would go on to be Egypt’s record-caps holder with an astonishing 184 appearances for his country – was also in the squad, as was striker Amr Zaki who was two years away from a loan move to Wigan.
Both Mido and Hassan were on the score-sheet in the opening game of the competition – a 3-0 win against Libya – before a draw versus Morocco and impressive victory over the Ivory Coast meant the hosts finished top of Group A.
Egypt then dominated their quarter-final, beating DR Congo 4-1 in Cairo before a Zaki goal nine minutes from time sent them to the final via a 2-1 triumph over a Senegal side who had reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years previously.
Egypt’s star man Mido missed the final after rowing with coach Hassan Shehata in the semis
Mido’s replacement Amr Zaki justified his coach’s decision by scoring the winner vs Senegal
But this game was not without controversy among the home nation.
Star player Mido was engulfed in a row with coach Hassan Shehata, after being substituted for match-winner Zaki. The pair made up a day later, but the Spurs striker was handed a six-month ban from playing for his country, and would miss the tournament showpiece three days later.
In the final, in front of 80,000 people at the Cairo International Stadium, laid in wait Ivory Coast once again, the favourites for the tournament.
With captain Didier Drogba, Yaya and Kolo Toure , Emmanuel Eboue and Arouna Kone among the international stars representing The Elephants, the visitors were the favourites amid a fever-pitch atmosphere in the Egyptian capital.
Ivory Coast were the opponents in the final but Didier Drogba and Co missed out on penalties
Egypt keeper Essam El Hadary was the hero, saving two penalties including Drogba’s (above)
It was Egypt’s fifth AFCON triumph as they won the 2006 competition gloriously on home soil
The contest, in the end, was a bit of a damp squib, ending goalless. Cue Egypt keeper Essam El Hadary’s time to shine, saving first up from Drogba and then from Nice winger Bakari Kone.
Ultimately, it was Mohamed Aboutrika who slotted home the winning penalty, triggering jubilant scenes across the country.
It was Egypt’s fifth triumph. Little did anyone know, however, that this was just the start.
Mido consoles Drogba (left) who missed a penalty in the shoot-out and never won AFCON
2008 – EGYPT’S RUN TO THE TITLE
Group stage – W 4-2 vs Cameroon, W 3-0 vs Sudan, D 1-1 vs Zambia
QFs: W 2-1 vs Angola
SFs: W 4-1 vs Ivory Coast
Final: W 1-0 vs Cameroon
Two years later, the tournament was held in Ghana and defending champions Egypt were drawn in a group with Cameroon, Zambia and Sudan.
The Pharaohs were this time without Mido – absent through injury – as well as Tottenham winger Hossam Ghaly, as he focused on a loan spell at Derby.
However, 12 of the players who were part of the 2006 squad were involved this time round, including Player of the ’06 Tournament Ahmed Hassan, who was playing in a record-equalling seventh tournament.
Despite a Samuel Eto’o double, Egypt beat Cameroon in their tournament opener by four goals to two, while a 3-0 win against Sudan paved their passage to the quarter-finals again, irrespective of a 1-1 draw against Zambia in their final group game.
In the last eight, they defeated Angola 2-1 in Kumasi, while the semi-finals triggered a rematch of the 2006 final against the Ivory Coast.
But despite a host of stars on the opposition team again – including Chelsea’s Salomon Kalou this time – Egypt came out on top once more by four goals to one, Zaki netting twice.
Samuel Eto’o’s Cameroon faced Egypt in the final but the star could not find a way through
And so to the final and, in stark similarity to their run two years earlier, their opposition was a team they had already played in the competition in Cameroon.
This time, though, it wasn’t settled by penalties.
Yet one thing was similar: the match-winner. Aboutrika – who netted the winning penalty in the shoot-out in 2006 – scored the winner with 13 minutes remaining with a composed finish after brilliant work by Mohamed Zidan.
Again, the Egyptians had upset the odds. A team with the likes of Eto’o, Geremi and Alex Song could not find a way past the Egypt defence.
Egypt were victorious once again against the odds after a brilliant run in Ghana in 2008
Attacking midfielder Hosny Abd Rabo won the Player of the Tournament Award after scoring four goals – the same total as team-mates Aboutrika and Zaki.
A historic double. Egypt had reached the continental pinnacle and defended their crown.
Disappointment was to come, though.
2010 – EGYPT’S RUN TO THE TITLE
Group-stage: W 3-1 vs Nigeria, W 2-0 vs Mozambique, W 2-0 vs Benin
QFs: W 3-1 vs Cameroon (AET)
SFs: W 4-0 vs Algeria
Final: W 1-0 vs Ghana
A year where the highlight was undoubtedly South Africa’s hosting of the World Cup – the first ever to be held in Africa – started with the Africa Cup of Nations, this time in Angola.
Yet two months earlier, in November 2009, the AFCON holders were involved in the most unlikely of scenarios.
In the final round of the CAF qualification process for the World Cup, Algeria and Egypt finished with an identical group record.
As such, a tie-break play-off was held in neutral Sudan. Previous games between the North African rivalries had involved violence, such was the decision to host this most of crucial matches on neutral territory.
The real shock came on the pitch though.
Algeria’s Antar Yahia scored the winner in the 40th minute, meaning the AFCON holders would not be at the Greatest Show on Earth come the summer.
After the loss of the match, the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) filed a complaint with FIFA against the Algerian football delegation, citing: ‘Egyptian fans, officials and players put their lives at risk before and after the game, under threat from weapons, knives, swords and flares,’
Fan violence overshadowed the World Cup qualifying situation between Algeria and Egypt
The complaint was closed by FIFA in May.
Nevertheless, Egypt took their place at AFCON in January with a point to prove. The greatest team in Africa were not going to be at the World Cup – but they weren’t about to give up their title.
Egypt stormed through their group, beating Nigeria. Mozambique and Benin with a goal-difference of +6.
They were then drawn against the might of Cameroon, again, in the quarters, but came through 3-1 after extra-time.
But then came the real grudge match.
Egypt took on Asamoah Gyan’s Ghana in the final but again kept a clean sheet when it mattered
Mohamed Nagy’s winner came five minutes from time as Egypt were triumphant again
It was the country’s third AFCON title – a crown won despite no World Cup later in the year
Algeria. For a place in the final. And what did Egypt do? They thrashed them, 4-0. Revenge is a dish best served cold.
By now, you know how this story goes. Egypt beat Asamoah Gyan’s Ghana – who were months later one kick away from reaching the World Cup semi-finals 1-0 in the final in Ludana, with Mohamed Nagy (who’d later move to Hull City) scoring the winner with five minutes remaining.
It was done. An unprecedented three AFCON titles in a row. Never done before. Never to see again?
Over to you, Mo.
This generation of players triggered joyous scenes across Egypt in a historic four-year period