Preview: To draw or to win? Egypt out to ensure last-eight berth against Ghana

Whether Egypt manager Cuper will continue to rely on Mohamed Salah in the middle or on the flank against Ghana remains to be seen

Omar Zaazou , Tuesday 24 Jan 2017,
Ramadan Sobhi and Ghana’s Harrison Afful in action in a World Cup qualifier in November which Egypt
Ramadan Sobhi and Ghana’s Harrison Afful in action in a World Cup qualifier in November which Egypt won 2-0 (Reuters)

Egypt will be looking to make sure of qualification for the Africa Cup of Nations last-eight when they face rivals Ghana in the last Group D game at Gabon's Stade de Port-Gentil on Wednesday.

With Ghana having already booked a berth in the quarter-finals following two narrow victories over Uganda and Mali, Egypt will be hoping their opponents will not make it three wins out of three this time around.

A victory for Ghana, however, would not totally eliminate Egypt's qualification hopes, which in this case would be contingent upon the result of the other group clash between Uganda and Mali.

An Egypt defeat coupled with a draw or a Uganda victory in the other group game would mean Hector Cuper's men, currently second on four points, are through to the knockouts.

A Mali win paired with an Egypt loss, however, would mean goal difference would have the final say as to who qualifies as group runners-up, a scenario the seven-time African champions will be keen to avoid.

Therefore, the defensive-oriented Egypt boss Cuper is widely expected to be aiming for a draw against the Black Stars, a result that would see both sides march through.

Poor pitch

Both sides had complained of the poor state of the Port-Gentil pitch, but whoever will top the group will have to play on it again in the quarters although reports are circulating that African governing body CAF is contemplating changing its plans with this regard.

"We want to qualify and we want to play on a good pitch," Ghana coach Avram Grant said.

"There is no point complaining about the pitch but I am not happy with this -- we are a technical team and we try to play good football.

"If the other pitch is better of course I'd prefer the other pitch."

Egypt's Argentinean boss Cuper also said it was difficult to play smoothly on the Port-Gentil surface.

A draw will send Egypt to the last eight as runners-up behind leaders Ghana, while a victory will put the seven-time African champions on top.

Left-back dilemma

Cuper would have hoped his side enter the game with a clean bill of health, but an ankle injury picked up by Ahly Jeddah full-back Mohamed Abdel-Shafi means the ex-Valencia boss is left with a problem in the left-back position.

Inexperienced full-back Karim Hafez, who plays for Ligue 2 side RC Lens, does not seem a reliable option for Cuper, who knows quite well that his defender on the left will be facing a stern test against Ghana star Christian Atsu.

Moving in-form veteran right-back Ahmed Fathi to the left is an option for Cuper, who would be forced to deploy either Omar Gaber or Hull City's Ahmed Elmohamady on the right in this case.

Right-footed Basel full-back Gaber could also be used in the left-back role, a position the 24-year-old is quite familiar with having been used there by his Swiss club several times this season.

Either way, Cuper will be primarily relying on the team's defensive structure as a whole, instructing his side to remain compact while restricting the spaces available for their Ghanaian counterparts.   

Salah in the middle or on the right?

Another major talking point is what tactics Cuper would deploy against the West Africans, with the 61-year-old manager having made changes to his starting lineup in the 1-0 victory over Uganda from the Mali draw.

With Cuper electing to use Stoke City winger Ramadan Sobhi on the left, the Egypt boss was eventually forced to make a decision between omitting either AS Roma star Mohamed Salah or Ahly playmaker Abdallah El-Said.

He opted to field Salah behind Ahly frontman Marwan Mohsen as a second striker, providing extra presence inside the opponents' box - an aspect that seemed lacking in the Uganda draw.

Cuper, however, looks likely to continue with his favored 4-2-3-1 formation that features an attacking line of three of Salah, El-Said and Mahmoud 'Trezeguet', with the changes against Uganda understandably forced due to Egypt's need to win the game.

But whether Cuper will be able to get around the problem of Salah's lack of interest in defending remains to be seen. One of the central midfield duo will probably be instructed to support the right-back.

Another option is Cuper fielding Salah as a lone striker upfront, while using Sobhi, El-Said and Trezeguet behind, but striker Mohsen's fine form of late could quite dissuade ex-Mallorca boss from doing so.

In all cases, the manager is expected to sit back and deploy a reactive strategy against a Ghana side, who have already secured qualification for the next phase. 

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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