Egypt overcame Morocco 2-1 in an incident-filled Africa Cup of Nations quarterfinal that went to extra time and now face a last-four clash with hosts Cameroon. Here are five things that Arab News learnt.
1. Salah came alive and made the difference
In the end Mohamed Salah, who had been quiet in the previous games, made the difference with a goal and a top-class assist to help grab the win. It was quite a turnaround.
The sight in the first half of Salah, the team’s best player and one of the best finishers in world football, taking the set pieces was a depressing one. It brought back memories of Harry Kane taking the corners during England’s doomed Euro 2016 campaign.
And, then, there was Salah, early in the second half, pouncing on a loose ball inside the six-yard box, and given far too much space, levelling for Egypt. It was a reminder of his poaching qualities.
In extra time, the Liverpool star was released down the right and found himself in a one-on-one situation with Nayef Aguerd — and there was only going to be one winner. Salah skipped into the area, found Trezeguet at the far post, and the Aston Villa man made no mistake.
2. Ziyech may be back soon
Morocco coach Vahid Halilhodzic is a fiery character who does things his way. In truth, the tournament was a disappointment for Morocco. This is a team that had what it takes to go all the way. While they eased through the group stage and came from behind to beat Malawi in the second round, it was not a memorable campaign, and the football was more functional than flowing.
Halilhodzic’s decision to leave out Hakim Ziyech, citing a supposed lack of commitment, was a huge call. As we have said before, the success of the call depended on whether Morocco went all the way, or close to it. But with the Atlas Lions crashing out in a narrow defeat to Egypt, the absence of Ziyech will be seen as huge.
World Cup qualification ends in March, and it may well be that Halilhodzic is shown the door sooner rather than later. If so, we may see Ziyech in his national team’s colors before long.
3. It was the start Egypt did not want but the neutrals did
With Achraf Hakimi in great form, the nerves in the Egyptian defense were obvious when he began to run down the right side. That was evident inside the first few minutes when the Paris Saint-Germain star was brought down by Ayman Ashraf. The referee did not give the penalty initially, but there was little doubt after watching the replay that it was a spot kick.
For the neutral, it was a welcome development, with the theory that an early goal would force Egypt to come out and play more. Yet those who expected an open game were disappointed, at least in the first half. The run from Hakimi was the only moment of genuine class in the early exchange, and neither side able to build momentum or produce any fluidity. Egypt slowly started to get the upper hand, however.
4. Egypt deserved the win against a disappointing Morocco
That early goal seemed to suck the energy out of Morocco and, following the penalty, they struggled to create clear chances and became more concerned about protecting what they had rather than trying to go for more.
Being behind changed Egypt and they came out for the start of the second half in a very different mood. The energy and approach were on a higher level as the seven-time champions started troubling the Moroccan defense, who were sitting too deep and asking for trouble. When the equalizer arrived after 53 minutes, it did not come as a surprise.
Morocco slowly got back into the match, but their performance was summed up by their free kick in the final seconds of extra time. It was on the right side, just outside the penalty area, and the goalkeeper had come up in that familiar act of desperation. Yet instead of launching the ball into the area, there was an inexplicable pass back, a loss of possession and an Egyptian break on an open goal that somehow did not result in a third goal.
5. Despite goalkeeping issues, Egypt have the defense to go all the way
With just two goals conceded in 510 minutes of football, Egypt have the defense to take them to the final and beyond. If Carlos Queiroz knows anything, he knows how to organize a backline.
The potential spanner in the works is a big one, however, as the team is going through goalkeepers at an alarming rate and have a number of other injuries, too.
The usual number one, Mohamed El Shenawy, had to go off in the win over Ivory Coast and replacement Mohamed Abou Gabal, also known as Gabaski, came in and pulled off a great save in the shootout.
Then the number two got injured, though not before he pulled off another great save to push a header on to the bar, and had to go off against Morocco late in the game.
In came the third choice, Mohamed Sobhy, to make his first-ever international appearance. Goalkeepers help win titles and if Sobhy starts on Thursday, Cameroon are going to look forward to testing him.