Thursday,14 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1289, (31 March - 6 April 2016)
Thursday,14 December, 2017
Issue 1289, (31 March - 6 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Africa is calling

A win and a draw against Nigeria gave Egypt a clear view of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, reports Marawan Zayed

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt beat Nigeria 1-0 in Alexandria on Tuesday, giving the winners seven points to lead Group G.

The loss left the Super Eagles with two points and no chance of qualifying to the Africa Cup of Nations. Tanzania has a solitary point.

Results against group rivals Chad have been erased after their withdrawal on Sunday because of financial reasons, meaning only the group winners will make it to next year’s finals in Gabon.

The win put Egypt in a strong position to qualify but they could still be caught by Tanzania. Mathematically the countries could both finish on seven points, although Egypt have a far superior goal difference and a 3-0 win over Tanzania from their match in June last year.

Only the top teams from each of the 13 groups are guaranteed progress to the next round in the race to reach Gabon.

The next two best teams among all the groups, plus the host nation, round out the 16 finalists.

Egypt have missed the last three African championships after winning three in a row.

In Tuesday’s game Ramadan Sobhi pounced on a loose ball inside the area with a right-footed shot that the keeper failed to see properly as the ball rolled into the net in the 65th minute.

Moses almost levelled for Nigeria when his low strike from outside the area hit the post.

In the first half, Egypt had early chances. A great run by Sobhi down the left ended up with Abdullah Al-Said missing the target by inches from inside the area. And Ahmed Hegazi headed narrowly wide from Mohamed Salah’s cross from the right.

In the 40th minute Ibrahim Salah saw his strike from outside the area blocked by the keeper, who again denied Rami Rabia a header shortly afterwards.

More than 40,000 fans packed Borg Al-Arab Stadium in Alexandria, one of the few times supporters have been allowed into stadiums in Egypt during the last four years for security reasons.

In the away game in Nigeria four days earlier, in the dying seconds, Salah snatched a vital 1-1 away point.

A sublime run followed by a splendid through ball by Egypt’s rising star Sobhi sent Salah clear on goal in the 91st minute and the Roma star made no mistake as he placed his shot in the far corner after a good first touch.

Hector Cuper surprised quite a few people in the firs-leg when the starting lineup was announced. He decided to leave out Sobhi and Hossam Ghali out of the starting eleven, opting to start with Ibrahim Salah and Mahmoud Trezeguet at their expense.

The first half was not the most entertaining as both teams started slowly without creating many chances until Kouka came extremely close to breaking the deadlock in the 18th minute. Salah and Said combined well to set up Kouka who should have scored given his recent form in front of goal but Carl Ikeme made a superb save with his leg to deny the Braga striker from scoring the vital opener.

However, the remainder of the half did not witness any more chances for the Egyptian national team. Instead, Nigeria’s captain and Watford’s goal machine Ighalo came close to scoring on two occasions but failed to do so which meant the first half ended in a goalless draw.

Nigeria started the second half better than the Egyptians as they searched for an opening goal on their home turf and indeed Egypt’s resistance was broken in the 60th minute when Man City’s Iheanacho surprise shot struck the bar before falling to Etebo who managed to slot it home under pressure from Egypt’s left back Hamada Tolba.

However, the turning point of the game came in the 84th minute when West Ham’s Victor Moses was sent clear by Arsenal’s Iwobi and thought he scored his side’s second goal after rounding Ahmed Al-Shinawi only to see Tolba heroically clear the ball off the line in stunning fashion that left Moses, his teammates and the home fans baffled by how they failed to kill off the game.

Substitute Sobhi, who is probably the most in-form player in the Egyptian league at the moment, had his say in the game as his brilliant run in the 91st minute resulted in the vital equaliser that could very much mean a place in the Africa Cup of Nations for our national team. Ramadan’s magnificent through ball saw Salah played onside by Nigeria’s goal scorer Etebo. Salah made no mistake despite the huge pressure put on him given the timing of the chance. His left footed finish ignited wild celebrations among the Egyptian players on the field and the bench, let alone the fans watching back home.

Despite the good result against a very strong Nigerian side away from home, the Egyptian team will feel hugely undone by the referee who astonishingly blew his final whistle with Salah clean through on goal in the 93rd minute. The Egyptians understandably went crazy when the referee blew his whistle but African football isn’t really strange to controversy. So, Egypt had to settle for the 1-1 draw despite getting a real chance to seal her place in the Africa Cup of Nations after three consecutive absences.

Cuper admitted after the game that he should have made his substitutions earlier but expressed his delight over how his players gave their all until they got their deserved equaliser.

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