Egypt, missing the spark of Mohamed Salah, needed a second-half goal from defender Mahmoud Hamdi to scrape a 1-0 home win over Togo and move joint top of their African Nations Cup qualifying group on Saturday.
The Zamalek central defender, nicknamed El-Wensh, settled a dour affair with a header seven minutes into the second period, helping Egypt end their winless start to their qualifying campaign.
He also netted his first international goal on only his third appearance with Egypt, having been called up after a string of impressive displays with his Cairo club.
Egypt, who were held to opening draws with minnows Comoros and Kenya, could ill-afford another stumble in their bid to reach the Nations Cup, which will take place in Cameroon in January 2022.
They received a blow when Salah tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, just one day before the game, leaving coach Hossam El-Badry with little creative options upfront. The Liverpool forward also missed the first two games of the qualifiers due to injury.
He was replaced with Ahmed Zizo against Togo but the Zamalek winger made little impact as Egypt laboured for most of the game.
They will still be content to bag all three points as they moved level on five points with Comoros in Group G. Kenya lie third on three points, with Togo, who are managed by veteran French coach Claude Le Roy, lying at the bottom with a solitary point.
The top two teams in each group will advance to the Cameroon finals. Egypt next face Togo away from home on Tuesday.
Togo were barely untroubled in a drab first half, in which Egypt struggled to penetrate the massed ranks of their resolute opponents.
The only real chance that fell to Egypt was a header from Zamalek's in-form striker Mostafa Mohamed that keeper Malcolm Barcola finger-tipped onto the post after 21 minutes.
Aston Villa winger Mahmoud Trezeguet also had a penalty claim waved away by the referee after flicking the ball past his challenger following a brilliant control of a right-wing cross.
Otherwise, Mohamed was left isolated upfront while Togo grew bolder as the match wore on, trying to hit their illustrious opponents on the break.
Egypt's goal came from a set piece on 53 minutes. Abdallah El-Said's low free kick near the byline eluded several defenders and found Mohamed Elneny at the far post, with the Arsenal midfielder flicking the ball across the six-yard box for Hamdi to rise unmarked and head home from close range.
The hosts failed to build on their opener, with Togo pushing forward in search of an equaliser.
A sluggish Egypt side resorted to deep-defending tactics in the latter stages to contain Togo's feeble attempts. The record-seven time African champions also had two valid penalty claims turned down by the referee.
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