Egypt’s bid to reach the Olympic Games for the second time running failed on Saturday when they put in a lackluster display to slump to a 1-0 loss to already-eliminated Mali which left them at the bottom of their group in the U-23 Africa Cup of Nations in Senegal.
A first-half own goal by defender Mahmoud Hamdi condemned Egypt to their first Group B loss after two 1-1 and 2-2 draws with Algeria and Nigeria respectively as the country’s promising footballers, criticised by local media for their extravagant use of social media, failed to live up to expectations on their first real test on the international stage.
Several of the U-23 team players are regular starters for the national senior team and Cairo giants Ahly and Zamalek but none managed to catch eyes in Senegal, with former Ahly coach Hossam El-Badri unable to get the best out of them.
The Pharaohs needed a win over Mali to stand any chance of booking a semi-final berth and vie for a top-three finish which earns qualification for next year's Olympic Games but their opponents produced a more spirited and organised display to bag their first win after two defeats.
El-Badri’s men finished at the bottom of Group B with two points, three behind Nigeria and Algeria who advanced to the last-four stage after playing out a goalless draw.
Egypt reached the quarter finals at the 2012 London Games after qualifying for the Olympics for the first time since 1992 but they will not be present in Rio de Janeiro next year after a Nations Cup campaign to forget.
Egypt looked disjointed and rusty in the first half, struggling to string many passes together with midfield defensive-minded duo Rami Rabia and Mohamed Fathi unable to move the ball forward.
However, winger Mahmoud Kahraba, Zamalek’s rising star, spurned two goal-scoring opportunities inside the first 10 minutes, blasting high over after being played in by Ramadan Sobhi and side-footing a tame close-range effort into keeper Djigui Diarra’s hands with the goal at his mercy.
But it was Mali who took the lead in bizarre fashion when a corner was met by a downward header from Souleymane Coulibaly at the far post before Hamdi’s attempted headed clearance sent the ball over his own keeper Mosaad Awad and into the back of the net.
Although Egypt had the better possession after falling behind, they almost conceded another goal midway through the first half when Souleymane Sissoko was left unmarked to fire a volley just over the bar.
Egypt had made all three substitutions by the 67th minute, including one late in the first half, as coach Hossam El-Badri sought to inject zeal upfront by introducing two attacking midfielders and a striker.
The substitutions barely made any difference, with Egypt still finding it difficult to carve out openings.
Their best chance fell to Sobhi with 13 minutes remaining when Kahraba skipped past two challengers on the right and pulled the ball back to the Ahly playmaker whose curling effort went over the crossbar from inside the area.
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