AFCON: Salah inspires Egypt into semi-final showdown

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in Cameroon

By Taimour Lay
Posted on Monday, 31 January 2022 10:28

Africa Cup of Nations - Quarter Final - Egypt v Morocco
Soccer Football - Africa Cup of Nations - Quarter Final - Egypt v Morocco - Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium, Yaounde, Cameroon - January 30, 2022 Egypt's Mohamed Salah celebrates after the match REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Two decisive moments from Mohamed Salah were enough to propel Egypt into their 16th AFCON semi-final and send Morocco reeling on Sunday.

The Pharaohs will next play hosts to Cameroon at the Paul Biya Stadium in Olembe – only ten days since the death of eight fans outside the same venue in an incident that remains under investigation. As the blame game continues, CAF confirmed on Sunday that the new national stadium can be used for a semi-final and the final after further reassurances were received over security.

On the pitch, meanwhile, the Indomitable Lions edged past minnows Gambia on Saturday, with Toko Ekambi scoring twice in Doula to extend their remarkable unbeaten home record. Egypt will present a much sterner test, however, as Salah once again seeks to lift his national side.

Big expectations

So much is expected of the Liverpool forward in an Egypt shirt that it is often forgotten, unlike with his club side, that he is working within a system, constrained by the limits of his teammates and the caution of the coaches.

At Afcon 2017, an exasperated Hector Cuper would respond to demands for more attacking football by stressing that the public should prefer dull wins over any form of defeat. Current manager Carlos Quieroz, the doyen of defensive organisation, is also comfortable with containment rather than flair.

And yet the Egyptian way keeps on working. Salah is usually in the right place to produce when it matters. On Sunday night, it was his relentless foraging down the right flank which dragged Egypt back into a North African derby they looked at real risk of losing.

Morocco took a 6th-minute lead when Achraf Hakimi, so impressive in the tournament and advancing in trademark style from full-back, skipped two challenges before being fouled in the box. Sofiane Boufal dispatched the penalty. The predicament forced the Pharaohs into an uncharacteristically front-footed display while Morocco made the mistake of sitting back. Salah eventually got the equaliser shortly after half-time, tapping in after Yassine Bounou could only parry a save into his path. Then, in the first period of extra-time, on yet another dart in from the right, Salah found space to lay on a perfect cross for the onrushing Trezeguet.

Having started with a defeat to Nigeria, the Egyptians are – as usual – proving masters of the knockout phase. Morocco will rue an opportunity lost, especially after looking like the most cohesive team for much of the last two weeks and boasting a standout talent in Hakimi. The Atlas Lions’ 40-year-wait for a second Afcon triumph goes on.

Senegal vs Burkina Faso…

In the other semi-final, much-fancied Senegal will play Burkina Faso. Les Étalons will have no inferiority complex, coming in the wake of reaching the final in 2013 and a semi-final in 2017. Against a tough Tunisia side on Saturday, 19-year-old Lorient striker Dango Ouattara’s cracking finish was enough to proceed. While this Burkina Faso team does not have the supreme talents of Charles Kabore or Jonathan Pitroipa, the unit is getting results through pace and pressing.

Senegal did not find it easy against Equatorial Guinea in a quarter-final that ended 3-1 but was still on a knife-edge deep into the second half. After Sadio Mane had set up Famara Diedhiou to open the scoring, Equatorial Guinea got back on level terms midway through the second period when Jannick Buyla steered home from 15 yards out.

But Senegal’s strength off the bench ultimately made the difference, Cheikhou Kouayate taking advantage of a defensive calamity before Ismaila Sarr sealed the win. After a slow opening group phase, there are signs that Aliou Cisse’s men are gearing up to avenge their final defeat in Cairo in 2019.

  • Wednesday 2 February: Burkina Faso v Senegal
  • Thursday 3 February: Cameroon v Egypt

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