Egypt’s football team took a big step towards qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after it defeated Ghana 3-2 in the U-23 Africa Cup of Nations, coming from behind twice in a thrilling encounter.
The win gave Egypt a perfect record of six points from its first two games and guaranteed a semi-final berth. Of the eight teams competing in the tournament being held in Egypt, the first three will head for Tokyo.
In this second game played Monday in Cairo Stadium, Egypt’s star forward Ramadan Sobhi and his teammates played the game of their lives against a very strong Ghanaian side. The young stars managed to come back from behind twice in the game to defeat Ghana 3-2 thanks to an 88th minute strike to send Cairo Stadium into raptures.
The Ghanaian side took the lead in the sixth minute to stun the Egyptian fans and players but 11 minutes later Mustafa Mohamed scored his second goal of the tournament with a bullet header which was almost a carbon copy of his goal against Mali.
However, an embarrassing moment for Egyptian defender Mohamed Abdel-Salam saw him send Samuel Obiang one on one with the keeper Mohamed Sobhi inside the first minute of the second half as Obiang made it 2-1 for the visitors to shock all inside the stadium once again.
From that moment the Egyptians missed chance after chance thanks to some poor finishing and bad decisions inside the box. However, captain fantastic Ramadan Sobhi managed to equalise in the 82nd minute as he was the first to follow up Abdel-Rahman Magdi’s shot into the back of the net to start the great comeback for his fellow teammates.
In the 88th minute Ramadan turned into provider this time as his excellent corner was met emphatically by substitute Ahmed Yasser Rayan into the back of the net to make it three headed goals for the young Pharaohs from four goals scored in the tournament so far.
The game was as thrilling as it gets, and Egypt’s young stars certainly showed what they are made of while making every Egypt proud of the way they fought for the national jersey.
On the first day of the tournament Egypt had beaten Mali 1-0 and Ghana and Cameroon drew 1-1 while Cameroon defeated Mali 1-0 on Monday before Egypt took on Ghana.
As it stands after two games, Egypt leads the group with six points, Cameroon has four, Ghana one and lowly Mali pointless.
A draw for the Egyptian national team against Cameroon will secure the top spot of the group while a defeat will see the hosts qualify as runners-up.
“This victory has guaranteed at least our qualification by reaching the semi-finals,” Egypt’s head coach Shawki Gharib told the media in the post-match press conference after his team beat Ghana. The match was described by the media as one of the toughest games so far.
“Though we have taken the first step by reaching the semi-finals, we have won nothing,” Gharib added. “As I said before, our target is the Olympic ticket to the Games and the second is winning this cup. I thank my players for their great performance.
“I also thank the Egyptian fans who came to the stadium to support us. Before the match, I called on the fans to come to the stadium and back us. I told them that we won’t let them down and we didn’t and I hope that we can keep it up. Again, we would like to see more of our fans in our final group stage match against Cameroon on Thursday,” Gharib said.
Head coach of the Ghanaian team Ibrahim Tanko told reporters that his country played a great game but lost in the end. “This is football. I congratulate Egypt on qualifying. We will play to win against Mali and hope for a better result,” Tanko said.
Egyptian team captain Sobhi was selected the game’s MVP and he was thrilled with the news. “It was a great game and I am happy with this victory. It means a lot to us. I told my teammates that we have to fight in this match until the last minute for the sake of our fans who went to the stadium or those watching on television. I hope they continue backing us until we fulfill the dream of winning the tournament and qualifying for Tokyo.”
Egypt had won the opening game against Mali 1-0 on Friday. After a spectacular opening ceremony, Egypt’s young stars beat Mali thanks to a brilliant header from Mustafa Mohamed in the 29th minute.
The game wasn’t easy, and the visitors missed several chances in the second half. Egypt’s players felt the pressure of playing at home, with one eye on the Olympics.
However, the main aim of the game was achieved as the team won and left with a clean sheet.
On Tuesday 12 November in Group B, Cote d’Ivoire was scheduled to take on South Africa at 5pm, while Zambia was to play against Nigeria in the second match of the group at 8pm. Both matches were being held as Al-Ahram Weekly went to press.
Cote d’Ivoire had defeated Nigeria 1-0 in the first game for each of them while South Africa and Zambia played out a boring scoreless draw.
The group stage in Group A concludes Thursday 14 November with two matches taking place at the same time.
Egypt is scheduled to meet Cameroon in the last match of the group at 8pm in Cairo Stadium, while Mali will take on Ghana in the second match, at the same time, but in Al-Salam Stadium.
Group B concludes tomorrow, Friday, with Nigeria and South Africa clashing at Al-Salam Stadium, while Cote d’Ivoire faces Zambia in the second match, at the same time 8pm, but in Cairo Stadium.
The winners of the four matches will qualify for the semi-finals of the two-week tournament which will be held on Tuesday 19 November. The eight-team tournament concludes Friday 22 November with the play-off for third place being held before the final match.
The young Egyptians are currently making amends for the senior team which was ousted in embarrassing fashion in the round of 16 in the Africa Cup of Nations played in Egypt this past summer.
In football, Egypt’s last Olympic appearance was in London 2012. It got past the group stage before being knocked out by Japan 3-0.
Egypt took fourth place in the Tokyo Olympics of 1964.
The writer is a freelance journalist.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 November, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.