Egypt beat Senegal in a warm-up for the African Nations Cup. Nashwa Abdel-Tawab reports on the match and the team's preparations
A 60th-minute opportunistic goal by Egyptian striker Ahmed Hossam gave hosts Egypt a 1-0 victory over Senegal, the 2002 World Cup quarter-finalists, in a friendly played Friday night in Cairo.
The game was used by both teams as a tune-up in preparation for the African Nations Cup (ANC) to be held in Tunisia in January.
Not more than 20,000 fans were on hand in cavernous Cairo Stadium to see Marseille striker Hossam, better known as Mido, deliver the knockout blow to Senegal which had shocked defending champions France in the opening World Cup game of last year. Mido picked up a loose ball in front of goal and let fly with his left foot. The ball was parried by goalkeeper Tony Oliva but the rebound went straight back to Mido who slotted home the winner.
Senegal had gone to the World Cup instead of Egypt, having finished first in their qualifying group. But it was a mere shadow of itself, even though it came with a full-strength squad which included African Footballer of the Year Al-Hadj Diouf. Egypt's Medhat Abdel-Hadi starred, thwarting most attempts by Diouf to break out.
It was clear from the outset that Senegal was more intent on not losing. They lost against Egypt two years ago in Cairo in their only World Cup qualification loss and were perhaps wary of another defeat.
The Pharaohs resorted to defence on Senegal's rare attacking forays, embodying the 4-4-1-1 format as does European powerhouses Italy, Spain and France. "I change my plan according to the team we're playing," said Egypt's manager Mohsen Saleh who said he was satisfied with the victory. "The players managed to execute 70 per cent of what I asked of them. But after the goal there was no self-confidence and the performance weakened more and more."
Sports critic Hassan El-Mestikawi said the problem was endemic in Egyptian football. "It's a problem, the loss of concentration and confidence after scoring a goal and resorting to defence in the face of attacks which are not threatening."
Saleh is confident about his team's chances at next year's ANC finals despite the quality of opposition in their group. The Pharaohs are in the same group as defending champions Cameroon, debutantes Zimbabwe and 1990 ANC champions Algeria.
Egypt, four-time African champions, play more friendlies over the next few months. In November it meets Italy and Sweden. Other games include matches against Mali, Benin and Kenya scheduled from between 8 and 15 January. The Nations Cup begins on 24 January. The Pharaohs open their campaign against Zimbabwe in Sfax on 25 January.
Saleh is delighted by the forthcoming friendly against Kenya's Harambee Stars. "I believe that playing against them will be a very good opportunity for us since they play very similar football to Zimbabwe's," Saleh said.
Egypt had previously been scheduled to play a friendly against Cameroon but the match was cancelled when both countries were paired in the same group at last month's Nations Cup draw.
In Africa's latest seedings, Senegal replaced Nigeria in second place, following Cameroon, in the monthly rankings released by FIFA. Egypt remained sixth.
Other African warm-ups saw ANC hosts Tunisia and Morocco battle to a goalless draw.
Adel Chedli failed to beat Khalid Fouami from the penalty spot after the Moroccan keeper brought down Zied Jaziri in the first minute of the second half. Fouami blocked the shot to his right and the rebound was cleared for a corner.
It was the second successive game in less than a week in which Tunisia failed to score and the home fans booed the team off the pitch.
After losing 1-0 to Japan last week on Wednesday, Tunisia coach Roger Lemerre will be hoping for an improvement when his side continue their Nations Cup preparations against Italy and South Africa.