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How can Egypt's clipped left-wing operate against Senegal?

Egypt may play it safe by deploying a firmly defensive-minded left-back against Senegal in Saturday's African Cup of Nations tie due to shortage of options

Hatem Maher, Tuesday 11 Nov 2014
Mohamed Abdel Shafy
Tunisia's Wahbi Khazri, right, controls the ball past Egypt's Mohamed Abdel Shafi during their Africa Cup of Nations group G qualifying soccer match in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014. (Photo: AP)
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Views: 2379

In Mohamed Abdel-Shafi, Egypt have a consistent performer down the left flank who can close down spaces at the back, surge upfield and whip in pinpoint crosses at the other end.

The injured Saudi Arabia-based footballer will not be available when Egypt host Senegal in a crunch African Cup of Nations qualifier on Saturday, limiting the options of coach Shawky Gharib to some defensive-minded lads and inexperienced full-backs.

The stand-ins are hardly reliable.

Ahly's Sabri Rahil has not been very convincing since leaving Cairo's Zamalek to join their cross-town rivals while Ismaily's Bahaa Magdi does not have the sufficient international experience to start in such a high-profile and anticipated game.

The most likely option would be deploying natural right-back Ahmed Fathi, one of the mainstays of a hugely successful Egypt side in the late 2000s, on the left.

Such a maneuver did not pay off in the 2-0 loss to Senegal in Dakar when Abdel-Shafi was also injured, with Fathi struggling to move the ball forward with his weak left foot, taking too much time to switch the ball to the other foot.

"There was some criticism of Fathi when he played as a left-back in Dakar, but the technical staff firmly opposes that view. He actually did what we asked him to do," Gharib, who has embarked on a rebuilding process following the retirement or loss of form of some key players, told a news conference.

"Fathi may play as a left-back against Senegal again. We are mulling that," added the former assistant of Hassan Shehata, who led Egypt to a hat-trick of Nations Cup titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

On paper, the 30-year-old might perfectly fit in that role, but only in defensive terms. He is known for his tough yet clean tackles which make it very difficult for a confronter to bypass him.

"I'm under the command of the management to play in any position they field me in, even if it means playing as a goalkeeper," said Fathi, who plays for Qatari side Umm Salal.

"Of course I would best perform in my traditional position, but I'm ready to fill any gap."

Gharib may eventually play it safe and sacrifice any prospect of some marauding runs down the left or over-laps for the sake of defensive stability against the pacy Senegalese forwards, who are also expected to give Egypt's central defenders torrid time.

Porous centre

The heart of Egypt's defence was porous in the Dakar fixture, with Senegal scoring two carbon-copy goals via defence-splitting passes that exposed the team's frailties at the back.

What's even worse this time around is that Egypt will have to do without Ahly's fast-improving defender Saad Samir, who formed a fine partnership with club teammate Mohamed Naguib in the Pharaohs' two consecutive victories over Botswana, due to injury.

Aly Gabr, who made an impressive start to his stint with Zamalek after joining in the close season, is likely to replace Samir in the starting line-up, but both might be vulnerable to any swift breakaways, given their relative lethargy.

"I might be able to cover for any missing strikers, but the defence now poses a real problem for us," Gharib admitted.

Egypt must beat Senegal in the do-or-die clash to stand a chance of progressing to next year's Nations Cup finals as one of the top two in Group G. They lie third with six points, one behind Senegal and four adrift of leaders Tunisia, whom they face away from home in their last game.

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