Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Mini-miracle needed

The Pharaohs away victory over Botswana gave the Egyptians a new lease on life, reviving their slim hopes of making it to the finals of the African Cup of Nations. Marawan Zayed reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

The win lifted the spirits of the national team higher before taking on Botswana in the second-leg match which was scheduled to be played in Cairo International Stadium yesterday (Wednesday).

As soon as the Pharaohs landed at Cairo Airport, they were informed by the Egyptian Football Association that security bodies had agreed to hold the match in Cairo Stadium as was requested. Allowing fans into the match remains unclear. The national team and clubs have been playing most of their games behind closed doors for the past two years for security reasons.

The Egyptian national team finally managed to collect its first three points of the African Cup of Nations qualifiers after defeating Botswana 2-0 away from home. The points for the Pharaohs means the dream of qualifying for the next edition of the ACN, to be held in Morocco starting in January next year, is still alive knowing that anything other than a win would have all but ended Egypt’s slim hopes.

After two defeats at the hands of Senegal and Tunisia 2-0 and 1-0 respectively the pressure was massive on the national team as they headed into the Botswana game. The only team in the group who had yet to find the back of the net needed maximum points from the game to have any chance of clinching second place in the group from either Tunisia or Senegal or finishing the best third place team overall from the entire seven groups.

The first half saw our national team miss some half chances and as the likes of Mohamed Salah and Amr Gamal didn’t really get any clear chances to score. The pressure was even greater as the first half of the game ended goalless.

Botswana started the second half well and seemed more eager to push forward and only a stunner from Al-Nenni broke their resilience and kick started our journey. Al Nenni received the ball 25 yards away from the goal and sent an unstoppable shot into the top corner scoring his first international goal and the first for the national team in the qualifying campaign.

The team seemed more relaxed and star man Mohamed Salah who looked really short in confidence added the second goal for Egypt in the 62nd minute after Amr Gamal laid the ball to him at the edge of the box to slot it home in the far corner in style. The goal all but ended Botswana’s chances of getting anything from the game and from that point till the end of the game it was all about Egypt which could have scored more goals.

Botswana remains pointless and lies at the bottom of Group 7.

The other game of the group between Tunisia and Senegal ended in a boring goalless draw with both teams showing little interest in taking the risk and going for all three points. Egypt are now third in the group with three points while both Tunisia and Senegal lead with seven points each with three games remaining. They will meet each other again on 15 October, the same day in which Egypt will face Botswana here in Cairo.

Many questions are being asked by Egyptian fans about the possible scenarios for the group and what are the chances of qualifying. So far, the possible scenarios are as follows: If Senegal and Tunisia draw their second game, both of them will stay top with eight points from four games with Egypt third with six points from as many games if the Pharaohs defeat Botswana in Cairo. This scenario will mean that Egypt will have to defeat Senegal and Tunisia in their final two games to guarantee qualification or at least defeat Senegal here in Cairo and draw with Tunisia in Tunisia and hope that Botswana can perform a miracle and defeat Tunisia.

However, if Tunisia manages to defeat Senegal at home this will see Tunisia move top of the group with 10 points, Senegal second with seven points and Egypt third with six points, meaning Egypt must defeat Senegal in the following game to move ahead with nine points. It will leave Senegal with just seven points and a possible 10 after beating Botswana, after which Egypt will hope to pip Senegal to the second spot of the group on head-to-head meetings. So, Egypt must defeat Senegal by more than two goals.

Defeating Tunisia on their home ground seems nearly impossible given that they shocked us here in Cairo 1-0. The more realistic option for the Egyptians is to win at least two games out of the remaining three and draw the other, then wait for other results to go our way.

Tunisia defeated Botswana 2-1 in their opening game with the last kick of the game after coming from behind which gives us some hope that Botswana can once again create problems for the Tunisians in the second leg.

If Egypt can win all its remaining games there would be no need for any favours from anyone but if we can’t do it then we must hope for anything other than a draw between Tunisia and Senegal and take it from there.

Realistically, it will need close to a miracle for us to qualify after losing the first two games especially the game at home against Tunisia in Cairo. The rule of thumb is when you’re put in such a difficult group and there are not many games to be played, you must collect maximum points from your home games and if not, at least don’t get beat. The players showed great determination and improvement against Botswana and hopefully more of the same in the remaining three games will see the Pharaohs doing the impossible and qualify for their favourite tournament.

The Pharaohs have won the Africa Cup of Nations, acknowledged as the third toughest football competition in the world following the European and South American tournaments, a record seven times, including three in a row, another record.

But they have missed the past two editions and are in serious danger of missing out a third consecutive time.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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