Expectations mount as Salah launches bid for glory

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The Pharaohs and the continent's outstanding player are chasing an eighth African title having fallen short in the 2017 final against Cameroon.

The defending champion was the intended host before organisers stripped it of those rights amid security and preparation concerns, and Egypt's record when staging the AFCON is formidable.

Three of the previous four times – 1959, 1986 and 2006 – Egypt has run out winner and came third in 1974.

Having a fully fledged global star such as Liverpool forward Salah in its ranks only serves to heighten expectations in a football-mad nation.

"In Egypt, football is almost a religion," said Egypt coach Javier Aguirre, who has overseen six wins and one defeat from eight matches in charge since succeeding Hector Cuper. "It's totally crazy. Mohamed Salah is like… do you remember David Beckham at Real Madrid?

"I was living there at the time [while in charge of Atletico Madrid] and it was unimaginable.

"Many security guards. He could not even go to the street. With Mohamed, it's very difficult. Today, in Muslim countries, in African countries, he's the best. No doubt about it. For the fans, he's like [Lionel] Messi or Cristiano [Ronaldo]. It's unbelievable."

Zimbabwe boss Sunday Chidzambwa believes Egypt is the tournament favourite and is realistic about his own team's prospects at Cairo International Stadium.

"We know how strong Egypt are especially when they play at home and the fans on their side supporting them throughout the competition," he told reporters.

"Now that we are in the AFCON group stages, we will work hard to get the best possible results in all our games."