Two goals from Mohamed Salah and Abdallah El-Said helped Egypt kick off their World Cup qualifying group in convincing fashion, earning a 2-1 comeback victory over Congo in Brazzaville on Sunday.
Congo went ahead against the run of play when a recurring defensive blunder allowed Ferebory Dore to head home but Salah, who was guilty of two glaring misses earlier, restored parity with another header four minutes before the break.
Salah then turned provider as Ahly playmaker El-Said finished off a neatly-worked counter attack in the 58th minute and Egypt, who were also unlucky not to extend the gap, held firm in the dying minutes to claim a precious opening win.
The Pharaohs' aerial weakness was repeatedly exposed by a brave Congo side in an exciting match at the 60,000-seat Municipal de Kintele Stadium but their flowing moves upfront made up for their defensive frailties.
Egypt, looking to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1990, lead Group E with three points, two ahead of main challengers Ghana and minnows Uganda, who played out a 0-0 draw in Tamale on Friday.
The seven-time African champions host Ghana next month while Uganda face Congo.
Salah's pace and misses
Egypt coach Hector Cuper surprisingly fielded veteran 43-year-old keeper Essam El-Hadary in the starting line-up, relegating Zamalek's Ahmed El-Shennawi to the bench, with Tarek Hamed partnering Arsenal's Mohamed Elneny in the heart of midfield.
Lone striker Bassem Morsi was supported by three attacking midfielders in Salah, Abdallah El-Said and Mahmoud Trezeguet but the latter was particularly disappointing, failing to carry out the defensive role assigned to him.
Egypt still had the better of the early exchanges, with Salah's pace unsettling Congo's backline as the visitors relied on a trademark move that often sees a deep-lying midfielder release the AS Roma winger with a defence-splitting pass.
The first real chance fell to Trezeguet, who was fed by Ahly playmaker El-Said but his weak shot was easily gathered by Congo keeper Gildas Mouyabi.
One minute later, Salah outpaced his challenger to go clear but his angled dinked effort was also thwarted by Mouyabi, with Egypt then punished on 24 minutes when a defensive lapse allowed Congo to go ahead to send the home fans into delirium.
Thievy Bifouma's cross with the outside of his right foot caught central defender Ali Gabr and right-back Omar Gaber napping, with Dore rising between them to head emphatically past El-Hadary.
El-Hadary tipped over a powerful shot from Fabrice Ondama as Congo went close to doubling their advantage, before Egypt regained their composure to take control of the final stages of the first half.
Salah spurned another golden opportunity from a Tarek Hamed long ball but made amends on 41 minutes when his far-post header from a pinpoint cross from left-back Mohamed Abdel-Shafi found the bottom corner.
In the second half, Congo remained dangerous in any angled set-piece and a free header from Ondama following a corner went just over the bar a few minutes after the restart.
However, Egypt managed to stun the home crowd shortly after when a long ball from the impressive Hamed released Salah on the right, with the 24-year-old pulling the ball back to the onrushing El-Said to fire into the roof of the net.
Congo piled on pressure in the latter stages and almost leveled the score on 73 minutes had it not been for a superb goal-line clearance from Abdel-Shafi before El-Hadary spared Egypt's blushes after blocking an attempted clearance from off-form defender Ali Gabr, who was at fault on many occasions.
Cuper introduced Stoke City winger Ramadan Sobhi in the last 10 minutes and he and El-Said squandered two clear-cut chances in stoppage time but Egypt still held on for an opening victory.
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