Egypt coach Hector Cuper says qualifying for the 2018 World Cup is a more important goal than performing strongly in the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon.
The Egyptian are on course to reaching their prime objective as they currently lead Group E in the World Cup Qualifiers after wins against Congo and Ghana.
But Cuper will lead the Pharaohs at Gabon 2017, where they will be returning to the AFCON for the first time since 2010.
Egypt have an unrivalled record at the Nations Cup, having won it a record seven times but a push for trophy number eight is not as important as reaching Russia 2018, according to their Argentine coach.
“We are back in our habitat. Egypt have won the Africa Cup of Nations seven times and qualifying for the tournament is the least we could do. Our big goal is the 2018 World Cup since we haven’t qualified to it since 1990, too much for a nation that loves football and have a lot of talent,” Cuper told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
“I arrived at Egypt after a series of disappointments in Spain, Turkey and UAE. I wanted a new tough challenge, Egypt was in similar conditions having not qualified to AFCON or World Cups. It was like a wedding of mutual interest.”
Cuper added, “It is obvious at the beginning when you arrive to a new continent you have to go through a process of integration in and off the field that is not easy. But I am here now [in Egypt] for almost two years and I am very well.
“On practical level I wasn’t familiar with Egyptian football level and I discovered a huge passion, widespread talent and an excellent domestic competition.
“The expectations here in Cairo [for AFCON] are very high. Mainly due to the traditions that accompanies us since we are the nation with most African titles and the hunger of the fans after missing the last three editions.
“I repeat that our main goal is Russia 2018, I am saying this because if things were to go wrong in Gabon all the good the effort that has been done in recent period will be undermined. Secondly we have what it takes to win, we are not inferior to anybody but we will see what happens.
“I would be fine if we arrive in the final to continue my own tradition. I have played many finals and I lost a lot (laughs), but I am sure Egyptians will forgive if we surrender to the last act in Gabon.”