The hard way
Egypt's Olympic football team did not make things easy for itself, reports Ahmed Morsy
Click to view caption|
Egypt's Hisham Abdel-Aal (red) defeats Benson Njangiru of Kenya in men's flyweight (52kg) round of 32; Egypt's Hussein Hafiz (blue) beats Costa Rica's Osman Murillo Sergura during their men's-73kg round of 32 judo match. Hafiz was later eliminated in the round of 16 against French Legrand; Salah celebrates after scoring past New Zealand goalkeeper O'Keeffe
By the time Al-Ahram Weekly went to press, the game between Egypt and Belarus on Wednesday had not yet been played. Depending on the results, Egypt would either qualify for the second round of the football Olympics or exit early from the group stage.
With only one point from two games, Egypt would need to beat Belarus to qualify; a loss or a draw would not do. Had Egypt beaten New Zealand it would have needed only to draw with Belarus to continue onwards.
But Egypt's chances of qualifying for the last eight of the men's football tournament took a blow after their 1-1 draw with New Zealand at Old Trafford on Sunday following a 3-2 loss to gold medal favourites Brazil in their opening Olympic Group C game last Thursday.
Egypt will have to beat the Europeans to qualify for the quarter-finals, while minnows New Zealand, also with one point, will have to beat the South American giants, who qualified after two games with six points, to progress from Group C. Going into the third game, Belarus had three points after beating New Zealand 1-0 and losing to Brazil 3-1.
Against New Zealand, the Pharaohs could have had at least seven goals by the final whistle but a mixture of New Zealand's desperate defending, and some wasteful finishing from Egypt, meant that they had to settle for a draw.
The African side made a bright start, laying siege to New Zealand's area from the very beginning, thanks to some swift exchange of passes between attacking trio Mohamed Abu Treika, Emad Meteb and Mohamed Salah.
However, against the run of play, New Zealand scored in the 17th minute following a dreadful defensive blunder. With no defenders in sight, Chris Wood converted a flick-on from skipper Ryan Nelsen at the far post following a corner.
In the 40th minute, Egypt levelled the score. Salah equalised when he escaped his marker to receive a fabulous cross from Abu Treika with a sliding shot at the far post that went in after striking the hand of New Zealand keeper Michael O'Keeffe.
After the interval, while the Egyptians launched a wave of attacks, New Zealand responded by defending in numbers. With no goals till the 80th minute, Egypt intensified their efforts in a bid to notch a decisive goal, squandering three gilt-edged opportunities in the process. Ahli's duo Meteb and Ahmed Fathi were the stars of squandered goals.
In the 83rd minute, Fathi broke clear after exchanging passes with Meteb but he dithered on the ball to allow New Zealand's defence to clear. Five minutes later, Meteb skipped past a defender inside the area but his subsequent low shot was saved by O'Keeffe.
Again, Meteb's horrible miss in stoppage time marked a heartbreaking end for Egypt. Rounding the keeper after a neatly-worked counter attack, he blasted the ball over the crossbar.
"We deserved to win the game, but we were very unlucky during the match," assistant coach Diaa El-Said told the German news agency DPA on Sunday.
"We wasted several chances to score, while our rivals successfully used a free kick to realise their only goal," he added. "The game against Belarus will be decisive for both teams," said El-Said. "We must beat the European side in order to qualify for the second round."
Egypt Olympic coach Hani Ramzi refused to single out Meteb for blame after the striker's shock miss during the game. "What about Meteb's opportunity?" said Ramzi when asked about the Ahli striker's chance that went begging.
"I won't criticise a single player for a miss when all the team missed dozens of chances.
"I think we played well in terms of ball possession but unfortunately we missed a number of easy chances.
"Now we have to fight against Belarus in the last group game."
In their opening Group C game against Brazil on Thursday, despite Egypt's promising start, some dreadful defensive mistakes allowed Brazil to go to the locker room with a three-goal lead, thanks to goals from Rafael, Leandro Damiao and Neymar.
Brazil were rewarded after 16 minutes when Manchester United full back Rafael controlled a pass from Oscar in the area, cut inside his marker and found the bottom corner of the net with a low shot.
Recurring defensive blunders allowed Brazil to double their advantage 10 minutes later. A mix-up between left back Islam Ramadan and goalkeeper Ahmed El-Shennawi, who was too slow to come out, allowed Oscar to round him on the right hand side of the area before squaring the ball to Leandro Damiao, who slotted into an empty net.
In the 30th minute, Santos forward Neymar, one of the world's most sought-after players, left Egypt with a mountain to climb after adding the third. He made a darting run before releasing the unmarked Hulk with a deft pass on the left. The Porto man whipped in a cross for Neymar, who caught three markers napping to head home after El-Shennawi, got a hand to this effort.
After the break, while Egyptians expected more Brazilian goals, the Pharaohs came back by scoring two goals.
Egypt's efforts paid dividends in the 52nd minute when right back Fathi, one of the team's more lively performers, rose at the far post to nod a corner into the path of striker Meteb.
The Ahli man's sliding effort struck the post and fell to Abu Treika, who made no mistake with a first-timer to narrow the gap.
Salah gave Egypt a lifeline in the 76th minute following a superb individual effort. Bamboozling Real Madrid left back Marcelo with a feint, Salah's left-foot shot went past Brazil keeper Neto from the edge of the area. It was too little, too late though as Brazil defended their narrow advantage to prevent Egypt from securing a famous draw.
Meanwhile, Ahli sent an official letter to the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) demanding the team playing in the Olympics returns their overage players in time for the club's match in the African Champions League.
"Preventing the over-age players playing in London from returning to Cairo to participate with their team Ahli in front of Chelsea on Saturday is an unfortunate situation by any standards," Hani Khashaba, Ahli's director of football, said on Monday.
"What grieves Ahli officials is that there was an agreement between Sayed Abdel-Hafiz and Ramzi on the return of Ahli players following their participation in the second game of the Olympics against New Zealand and that the players return to Cairo by 30 July at most," Khashaba added.
Khashaba said that in order not to influence the players and the need to focus on the pitch, Ahli officials decided to let Ahli players stay in London until the completion of the match against Belarus and then return directly to Cairo, hoping to catch up with the Ghanaian Chelsea match on Saturday.
Earlier, Ahli officially demanded from the EFA the return of their overage players from London before Egypt's game against Belarus.
"The return of midfielder Abu Treika and striker Meteb before the Chelsea match in the CAF Champions League is vital for the team, as we have already mentioned and previously agreed to," Ahli insisted.
Six-time African champions will play their third round of the group stage Saturday against Chelsea Berekum of Ghana. Ahli lead Group B after two successive victories over Zamalek and TP Mazembe.
Meteb and Abu Treika are boosting the U-23 national team in the country's first Olympic finals in 20 years. They were defeated 3-2 against Brazil in the first round and drew with New Zealand 1-1 in the second. As for Ahli winger Ahmed Fathi, who is over 23, he continues with the young Pharaohs since he is facing a one-match suspension anyway in the continental competition after he was given a second yellow card.