On the pitch

AFCON Cameroon/Egypt: Semi-final risks spiralling into a stagnant midfield battle

in depth

This article is part of the dossier:

Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in Cameroon

By Taimour Lay

Posted on February 3, 2022 13:11

Africa Cup of Nations – Quarter Final – Gambia v Cameroon
Cameroon – Cameroon’s Vincent Aboubakar reacts on January 29, 2022 REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani

There is a risk of tonight’s semi-final shown between AFCON’s two most successful teams degenerating into a stagnant midfield battle. If it does, much will depend on whether Mohamed Elneny or Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa gains the upper hand.

Both men are surrounded by functional accomplices and willing runners rather than flair. The pressure will be on Zambo Anguissa, excelling in Serie A on loan at Napoli from Fulham, to both break up play and dictate. The Indomitable Lions are looking to play through the lines early to Vincent Aboubakar and Karl Toko Ekambi. The No. 8 has the quality but is yet to be truly tested in this tournament.

Elneny, so often passive and unambitious in an Arsenal shirt, has been assuming more responsibility for the Pharaohs, facing forward and passing vertically. His goal against Cameroon in the 2017 final did not prove enough to take home the cup. He has waited five years for a chance to make amends but needs more help from Ahmed el-Soleya. Against Morocco, left back Ayman Ashraf was brought in to bolster the midfield, with one eye on the threat from Achraf Hakimi’s right-flank marauding. Coach Carlos Queiroz may try the same defensive tactic again.

Salah vs Tolo

Egypt will favour a slow-paced encounter in which territory is gradually gained to create a higher starting position for Mohamed Salah cutting in from the right, as he has done to devastating effect in the knockout phase.

Facing the Liverpool forward will be Nohou Tolo. The attacking full back, who has also played as a third centre back in a 3-5-2 in the MLS for the Seattle Sounders, was many people’s man of the match in Cameroon’s 2-1 win over Burkina Faso. He is showing more defensive moves, but Egypt will be looking to have Salah isolate him one-on-one. Tolo may need to curb his own attacking instincts on the left flank.

Vincent Aboubakar vs Mohamed Abdelmonem

Aboubakar has confirmed his status as Cameroon’s talisman. The 29-year-old striker is carrying the home crowd pressure with ease and has scored six goals. Fans want to see a repeat of his late volley in Libreville that vanquished Egypt the last time the sides met.

With Ahmed Hegazy likely to be ruled out by an injury sustained against Morocco, Egypt will need Mohamed Abdelmonem to take the defensive lead. The 23 year old did not start in his country’s opening-group defeat to Nigeria, came on as a substitute and has not looked back, including scoring the winning goal against Sudan. Lack of pace at the back can cost Egypt, but Abdelmonem has the physicality to cope.

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