Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
7 - 13 September 2000
Issue No. 498
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

 
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Shaky take-off

By Nashwa Abdel-Tawab

Egypt got the job done, but barely. A 1-0 home win over Côte d'Ivoire gave Egypt its first three points and a morale-booster as the qualifying games for the 2002 African Nations Cup in Mali began in earnest. However, the slight margin of victory means Egypt will have to raise the level of its game a notch or two if it is to have any chance of a repeat away victory in Abidjan. Egypt and Côte d'Ivoire are the odds-on favourites to qualify from their Group Seven which includes Sudan and Libya. The Libya-Sudan match was postponed to 10 September because of Al-Fateh Revolution day festivities in Libya.

Egypt had played Côte d'Ivoire 16 times before meeting in Alexandria last week, winning nine, drawing four and losing three. Hoping that history was on its side, the Egyptians hoped to add to the win column. The Ivorians, meanwhile, were depleted -- missing star players Bakauku, Oatara and Donald Sie -- yet feisty. Seeking an early lead, Egypt started lively enough by capitalising on its quick wings on both sides of the midfield. Sayed Abdel-Hafiz spearheaded his team from the right side with Abdel-Sattar Sabri dominating from the left. Abdel-Hafiz put his team ahead when he headed a well-curved Mohamed Omara cross into the net in the 15th minute.

Côte d'Ivoire took control of the mid-field in the second half for several long stretches but rarely threatened at goal. At the other end Walid Salaheddin and Walid Salah Abdel-Latif took turns missing clear-cut chances.

"The game was tough," said Egypt coach Mahmoud El-Gohari, "but the long season in both league and cup matches was tougher." That, El-Gohari argues, was the reason behind the lacklustre play of his team, which adopted a European 4-4-2 style of play for the first time. El-Gohari said the players were ready for the change. "I'm sure the next time the team will be better prepared and will attack more."

Egyptian captain Hossam Hassan, playing in his 146th cap, was forced to leave in the 35th minute following a knee injury. Hassan, considered one of Africa's most accomplished strikers, needs five more international games to break the world record held by German legend Lothar Matthaeus.

In other qualifiers, Morocco suffered one of its biggest humiliations in years, beaten 2-0 by Gabon in Libreville. Defender Guy-Roger Nzeng and Etienne Bito'o scored Gabon's goals in their surprise win in Group Three. Morocco's last trip to the Gabonese capital saw them lead 4-0 at half-time before a riot halted their World Cup qualifier and gave the North Africans three points by default.

The Congolese, who won the Nations Cup in 1974, lost 3-2 to Zimbabwe in Harare in Group Five. It was the first match at the National Sports Stadium since rioting led to the deaths of 13 people after a defeat to South Africa in the World Cup qualifiers in July. Only 10,000 turned up to watch the televised game despite Zimbabwe having won the regional Cosafa Castle Cup a week ago.

The ball is up in the air in the Egyptian-Côte d'Ivoire encounter as few inroads were made by either team; El-Gohari listens attentively as aide Abul-Ezz points to the reasons why
Ghana had substitute Nawa Duah to thank for a share of the spoils at Lesotho, with his two late goals earning them a 3-3 dramatic draw in Maseru in a Group Six thriller. Nana Duah was the Black Stars' hero, reducing arrears with nine minutes left on a hard, bumpy pitch and snatching the equaliser 60 seconds from the end of normal time.

Ghana, four-time African champions, looked in control at half-time with a 1-0 lead through a Christopher Amoah goal, only to collapse under early second-half pressure from the Crocodiles. Seth Lephoto levelled, Masupha Majara put the home side ahead two minutes later and the crowd went berserk when university graduate Molefe Makhele hit the third.

Zambia's unbeaten home record ended in a 2-1 defeat to Madagascar in Group One. The Indian Ocean islanders have never qualified for the finals before. Zambia's team and Dutch coach Jan Brouwer had to seek refuge in their changing room for an hour after the game in Lusaka as police attempted to keep angry fans at bay. The home side squandered Dennis Lota's early goal before suffering an embarrassing setback to their chances of qualifying for the seventh successive time.

Liberia and Nigeria were the big winners over the weekend, both clocking up 4-0 victories. Liberia beat Mauritius in Monrovia in Group Two, while Victor Ikpeba notched a hat-trick for the Super Eagles in their group one win over Namibia in Lagos. Ikpeba's haul went some way towards making amends after his penalty miss cost Nigeria the Nations Cup title last February in their final shoot-out with Cameroon in Ghana.

South Africa won 2-1 away to Congo in the last match for coach Trott Moloto, who is to be replaced by Portugal's Carlos Queiroz later this month. Thabo Mngomeni and debutant Bradley August scored on a bumpy pitch, while Congo got a late consolation goal from the penalty spot in a Group Two qualifier.

Kenya and Tunisia fought out a goalless draw in their Group Three qualifier in Nairobi. Tunisia, losing finalists in the 1996 tournament in South Africa, was lucky to escape with a point after the Somali referee denied the home side a goal in the dying minutes of the match. Tunisia's Brazilian-born defender Jose Clayton limped off in his first game in nearly two years after a hard tackle from Harambee Star's Bernard Onyango.

In Group Four Algeria drew 1-1 with Burkina Faso in Algiers while Burundi and Angola ended a scoreless match in Bujumbura.

In Group Five, Uganda beat Guinea in Kampala, 3-1.

The next round of qualifiers will be held on the weekend of 6-8 October. Egypt will play Sudan on 8 October. The two countries have met 21 times. Egypt has won 13 of those Nile Basin encounters, drew six and lost twice.


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