Egypt’s hope to end a 20-year Olympic Games drought is put on hold after they slumped to a 3-2 defeat by hosts Morocco in a thrilling African Championship semi-final clash on Wednesday.
The win sends Morocco to the tournament’s final and gives them the second African place at next year’s London Games. Gabon have also qualified for the Olympics after beating Senegal 1-0 on Tuesday.
Egypt were stunned when Morocco went two up in the first nine minutes, thanks to a brace from Abdelaziz Barrada.
The young Pharaohs pulled one back through a goal from Mohamed Salah but Morocco bagged a third six minutes past the hour mark after Youness Mokhtar made the most of recurring defensive blunders.
Forward Ahmed Sherweida narrowed the gap with seven minutes remaining but Egypt could not score a decisive equalizer to miss out on the chance of guaranteeing a place at the Olympic Games for the first time since 1992.
Egypt can still fulfill their target if they beat Senegal in the third-place playoff on Saturday. If they lose, they will face an Asian representative in a playoff for their last opportunity.
Egypt were taken aback after only 32 seconds when Soufiane Bidaoui made a surging run down the left, sidestepped defender Ahmed Hegazy and pulled the ball back to the unmarked Barrada, who made no mistake from five yards out.
A rare mistake from Egypt’s in-form keeper Ahmed El-Shennawy helped Morocco double their advantage in the ninth minute to leave the visitors with a mountain to climb.
El-Shennawy, tipped to become the successor of Egypt’s veteran guardian Essam El-Hadary, parried a tame shot from Adnane Tighadouini into the path of Barrada, who slotted into an empty net.
Recovering from a shock start, Egypt piled on pressure, thanks to the tireless work of winger Mohamed Salah who was guilty of two glaring misses.
In the 20th minute, the Arab Contractors man burst clear but his delicate left-foot shot struck the post. He tried to pounce on the loose ball and fire into an empty net but he somehow failed to kick the ball with the goal gaping.
Few moments later, Salah broke clear again after latching onto a superb long pass from midfielder Saleh Gomaa and a carbon copy low shot went past advancing keeper Younes Itri but a last-ditch interception from Morocco’s Zouhair Feddal cleared the danger.
He finally made amends in the 36th minute when he neatly controlled a left-wing cross, cut inside and sent a low curling shot into the bottom corner to reduce the arrears.
El-Shennawy atoned for his early blunder with a series of impressive saves as Morocco’s skilful forwards left Egypt’s sluggish defenders chasing shadows.
A superb reflex save from the Masry guardian in the 62nd minute thwarted a close-range effort from Bidaoui but he was powerless to stop Morocco restoring their two-goal cushion four minutes later.
Bidaoui’s bamboozling dribbling was too much for Hegazy as the Lierse man cut the ball back to Mokhtar, who faced little resistance from a static backline to fire home from inside the area.
Egypt grabbed a lifeline seven minutes from time when Sherweida, who spurned a golden opportunity two minutes earlier after his close-range shot came off the woodwork with the goal at his mercy, sent a low shot past the poorly-positioned Itri after Morocco’s defence failed to clear the danger.
However, Morocco held onto their slender advantage to reach the final and put on hold Egypt’s Olympic hope.