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Tue 12 Feb 2008 07:49 AM

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Ecstatic fans welcome Egypt's Pharaohs

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was the first of thousands of fans to welcome its national football team.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was the first of thousands of fans to welcome the national football team home in Cairo on Monday after their record-breaking conquest of the African Nations Cup.

Hundreds of fans spent the night at Cairo airport waiting for the team to return from Ghana as festivities continued through the night across Egypt following the 1-0 victory against Cameroon.

Thousands of flag-waving Egyptians lined the road to Cairo from the airport, where Mubarak and his son and heir-apparent Gamal greeted the team off the plane.

"The president has delayed his official visit to the United Arab Emirates by a day so that he can personally welcome the national team," Gamal told public television.

"I feel an indescribable joy, this is an historic victory."

In Egypt, where football eclipses all else, Mubarak sent a message of congratulations to the team as soon as the final whistle went on Sunday.

The veteran leader especially congratulated coach Hassan Shehata, as well as lone goalscorer Mohamed Aboutraika, goalkeeper Essam al-Hadary and the man who set up the winning goal, Mohamed Zidane.

"He told me 'congratulations, you have won great happiness and a great victory for Egypt'," Shehata quoted Mubarak as saying.

"Hadary and Zidane haven't let us sleep all night. They were crazy in Accra and in the plane," said a member of the team's support group.

Egypt's newspapers were unanimous in hailing the Pharaohs "who don't know the impossible," as the official Al-Ahram daily said. "Egypt be happy: our champions return heads high and with the most beautiful cup," headlined the independent Al-Masry al-Youm.

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