Monday,23 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1315, (13 -19 October 2016)
Monday,23 July, 2018
Issue 1315, (13 -19 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Best beginning

Egypt got off to a flying start in the qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup, reports Marawan Zayed

Al-Ahram Weekly

Brilliant Mohamed Salah once again was Egypt’s saviour as he guided the national football side to a 2-1 win over Congo away from home in the opening game of the African World Cup qualifying campaign.

Egypt’s coach Hector Cuper had some tough decisions to make before the game which started Egypt’s campaign for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. His two main centrebacks were unable to play with Rami Rabea injured and Ahmed Hegazi short of match fitness after returning from a long-term injury. Eslam Gamal and Ali Gabr started the game but both had a tough day at the office with the latter playing a part in Congo’s goal.

Another tough decision was the goalkeeper position as Cuper was divided between Ahmed Al-Shenawi and Essam Al-Hadari but went for the soon to be 44-year-old Al-Hadari who justified the decision with a brilliant display. Ahmed Abdel-Shafi and Omar Gaber completed the backline with Al-Nenni, Tarek Hamed and Abdullah Al-Said playing in midfield behind Trezeguet, Salah and Bassem Morsi.

Egypt started the game the better side and created some decent chances in the opening 10 minutes with Trezeguet in particular coming close with a shot from the edge of the box which the keeper saved. However, Congo were the first to score against the run of play as striker Ferebory Dore headed home an unstoppable header in the 24th minute after a mistake from Gabr and Gaber allowed him a free header inside six yards.

Egypt’s players seemed confused and hesitant for the 10 minutes that followed Congo’s goal but grew into the game in the final 10 minutes of the first half. Salah, who was guilty of missing two big chances, managed to level the score with a brilliant header in the 41st minute from Abdel-Shafi’s exquisite cross. The goal came at the ideal time as it would have been much harder for Egypt if it started the second half behind.

The equaliser as expected gave the players a huge boost in confidence as Egypt started the second half looking for a second goal and came close several times until it found the back of the net in the 58th minute. A splendid long ball from Tarek Hamed beat the offside trap and sent Salah through on goal. Salah, with all the composure in the world, waited for in the incoming Al-Said who finished brilliantly from Salah’s pass.

The goal destroyed the confidence of Congo’s players who seemed lost and unconnected. However, Egypt’s failure to find that killer goal gave the opponents hope to find an equaliser in the final 15 minutes with Abdel-Shafi and Al-Hadari saving the team on two occasions before Al-Said missed an absolute sitter in the final minute of regulation time.

The three added minutes were a bit nerve wrecking but the national side will return home with the three precious points. Egyptians will be equally delighted to see Ghana drawing 0-0 at home against Uganda two days earlier which just confirms that the Ghanaian side is not as strong as they were four years ago when they destroyed Egypt 7-3 on aggregate to reach the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Ghana were expected to demolish a very mediocre Uganda side but somehow it was the visitors who created the chances. They seemed to be fearless as they had nothing to lose according to their manager who said before the game that his players will defy the odds in this group as the pressure is on Ghana and Egypt to win it.

Egypt now sit top of the group with three points and face Ghana next in Cairo with this game in particular promising to be hugely important. A win for the national side will see it go five points clear of Ghana while Ghana will be determined to make up for their shocking result against Uganda. People might say the pressure is on Ghana after that result but Egypt’s national side will be playing at home in front of what will surely be a full house stadium which puts pressure on the players as they try to take another step closer to the dream of a place in the World Cup for the first time since 1990. The game will be played on 7 November either in Cairo Stadium or Borg Al-Arab.

The other groups saw DR Congo defeat Libya 4-0 at home and Tunisia beat Guinea 2-0 at home as well in Group A. The second group or the group of death as it is called, saw Nigeria defeat Zambia 2-1 away from home while Algeria and Cameroon drew 1-1 in Algeria, a result that will surely disappoint favourites Algeria especially that Cameroon is not the same team that terrified everyone in the past.

Group C witnessed a boring stalemate between Gabon and Morocco in Gabon while Ivory Coast defeated Mali 3-1 at home. Burkina Faso drew 1-1 at home against South Africa while favourites Senegal defeated Cape Verde 2-0 at home in Group D. Egypt lead the way in Group E with the next games of all groups played in mid-November.

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