Egypt’s dream return to the Africa Cup of Nations continues as they made the semi-finals after edging out a slightly unlucky Morocco in Port-Gentil. Mahmoud Kahraba’s late goal from a corner was enough to separate the sides and end Herve Renard’s bid to become the first manager to win a continental championship with three different nations.
The first half was a very forgettable affair, the match took place on the much criticised Port-Gentil pitch and it was no better today. There were visible bare patches which made running with the ball and playing it along the ground rather difficult. It was a day for getting the ball off the ground and moving it forward into the front areas quickly, therefore, not a game for the purists.
It was a stop-start affair thanks to the whistle-happy Gabonese referee. Morocco had cause to feel hard done by as a series of dubious free kicks were awarded to their opponents throughout the course of the half. In between the players battling with the pitch, each other and the referee’s whistle, a football match threatened to break out but this did not look very likely.
The first real attempt of the game came in the 12th minute when Trezeguet picked up the ball in the penalty area, he lashed a ferocious shot at Munir, in the Morocco goal, from a tight angle but because of the angle, the keeper was able to easily beat it away. Chances were hard to come by and the strikers of both sides became increasingly isolated and deprived of service.
The only other chance of the half fell to Romain Saiss of Morocco after good work from Manuel da Costa down the right flank. He played the ball across a crowded penalty area only for Saiss to fail to connect, however, Saiss was handed a second chance when the clearance was sliced up into the air but he could only direct his header onto the top of the crossbar.
The half ended with bad news for Egypt as striker Marwan Mohsen, who was already playing with significant strapping on his knees, was forced off with what looked like another knee problem after a clash going in for a tackle. He was replaced by Ahmed Hassan.
Much like the day’s earlier game, DR Congo vs Ghana, after a lacklustre first half, the game came alive in the second. Egypt struck first as Mohamed Salah broke through the Morocco defence at pace but again the angle helped Munir make the save.
Egypt’s perfect defensive record in the tournament was then seriously threatened. On the edge of the box, Faycal Fajr played the ball into Nabil Dirar, Dirar then whipped the ball into Bouhaddouz but his lunge fell agonisingly short and El Hadary just managed to push the ball to safety. Moments later, after the ball had been cleared upfield, Mbark Boussafa found himself with time on the ball around 30 yards from goal, he audaciously decided to go for goal and his curling effort had El Hadary beaten all ends up, only for his effort to smack against the crossbar. Egypt just couldn’t get out and again, the ball came back at them after being cleared. Full back Hamza Mendyl’s cross was met by Bouhaddouz but he could only direct his header wide. Somehow, Egypt survived the frenetic four-minute spell.
The ball seemed to be following Bouhaddouz, on the stroke of the hour, Dirar again whipped the ball into him, again he failed to make contact though and the ball was cleared. Any contact and it was a certain goal. Saiss headed over from the resulting corner.
In the 68th minute, Bouhaddouz’s squandered yet another chance. Once again he rose to meet a Dirar cross, his header deflected off Hegazi and fell just wide of El Hadary’s right-hand post with the keeper left flat-footed.
For all Morocco’s possession and chances, Hervé Renard must have been concerned that his side were yet to put the ball into the back of the net. They were so nearly punished for their profligacy by Egypt’s inventive free kick in the 77th minute. Abdallah El Said stood over it, with everyone expecting a cross, he chipped the ball up to Salah who had peeled off into acres of space in the penalty area, his flick on was only diverted away from goal by the excellent reactions of the charging Munir. The best chance Egypt had created all match.
Then came the defining moment. Morocco had dominated the second half, they had made all the running and had many opportunities to score. However, they couldn’t force the ball over the line and were hit with a sucker punch from Egypt. Mohamed Salah whipped his 87th-minute corner into the box, it was flicked on by substitute Mahmoud Kahraba, the ball then came back to him and he did well to get his leg up and poke the ball home. Egypt had sat back and soaked up pressure and when the time came were ruthless, something that failed Morocco.
Faycal Fajr’s last gasp free kick grazed the side netting with the last kick of the game. This gave Egypt a late scare but the seven-times champions held on and progress to the semi-final in their first appearance in the finals since they won the competition back in 2010. With the way they’re playing and the fact they are still yet to concede, who says they can’t go all the way and make it eight?
Burkina Faso will have something to say about that though and will do battle with Egypt on Wednesday with a place in Sunday’s final at stake.
Egypt: El Hadary; Elmohamady, Gabr, Hegazy, Hafez (Kahraba sub 63); Hamed (Samir sub 93), Fathy; Salah, El Said, Trezeguet, Mohsen (Hassan sub 42)
Morocco: Munir; Dirar, Benatia, da Costa, Saiss (Alioui sub 92), Mendyl; Boussoufa, El Ahmadi, Fajr, En-Nesyri, Bouhaddouz (El Kaddouri sub 78)