Preview: Egypt out to bury Morocco demons in Nations Cup quarter-final

Hatem Maher , Saturday 28 Jan 2017,
Egypt's forward Mohamed Salah (L) takes a free kick to score a goal during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations group D football match between Egypt and Ghana in Port-Gentil on January 25, 2017 AFP

Several Egypt players have played down the significance of a decades-old barren run against Morocco, but they are well aware they need to bury the ghost of their North African rivals if they are to reach the African Cup of Nations semis for the first time in seven years.

While Egypt were facing Ghana in their last Group D game on Wednesday, some fans back home wondered if a win would be harmful, given that it would pit the Pharaohs against old nemesis Morocco, whom they have not beaten in 31 years.

But a Mohamed Salah free kick gave Egypt a 1-0 victory which saw them leapfrog Ghana to top spot in their group, setting up a mouthwatering clash against Group C runners-up Morocco at Gabon's Port-Gentil Stadium.

In 1986, a superb free kick from Egypt great Taher Abou-Zeid gave them a 1-0 semi-final win over Morocco in the Nations Cup on home soil.

Since then, Egypt have met Morocco 12 times, drawing 8 matches and losing four. They could not even beat Morocco when they lifted the Nations Cup trophy in 1998 and 2006, losing 1-0 and drawing 0-0 respectively.

All in all, Egypt only won two out of 26 competitive and friendly matches against Morocco, but they insist history will count for nothing during Sunday's clash.

"I don't believe in any such barriers," Egypt's veteran 44-year-old keeper Essam El-Hadary told reporters on Saturday.

"We respect the Moroccan team but history is just history, we will not take it into our consideration. We are determined to fight for a win."

Similar style?

Similarities are being drawn between two cautious sides managed by wily coaches Herve Renard and Hector Cuper.

Frenchman Renard, who is looking to make history by winning the Nations Cup with three different teams after guiding Zambia and Ivory Coast to the coveted title, has been largely conservative in the group stage as his physical side recovered from an opening defeat by DR Congo to beat Togo and the Ivorians.

Cuper also adopted a trademark cautious strategy that saw Egypt claim narrow 1-0 wins over Uganda and Ghana after an opening goalless draw with Mali, becoming the only team at the Gabon finals not to concede any goal in the group stage.

But the Argentinean boss says Morocco have what it takes to threaten his side on Sunday.

"I can accept that Egypt is described as defensive, but Morocco isn't the same," said the former Inter Milan and Valencia boss.

"Morocco are defensively organized but they are very strong in attack. They are also physically strong and win almost all physical duels.

"Both sides will play to win so they will also rely on their attack, not just how they defend."

Egypt are sweating on the fitness of regular left-back Mohamed Abdel-Shafi, who missed the win over Ghana after picking up an ankle injury against Uganda.

In his absence, natural right-back Ahmed Fathi was deployed on the left and he was equally impressive, keeping Ghana's pacy winger Christian Atsu at bay.

Morocco had to do without several regulars after they were ruled out of the tournament through injuries, including Younes Belhanda, Nouredine Amranat and Sofiane Boufal.

"It is already a privilege to be in the last eight but now we need to be much more ambitious than that," Renard said.

"I have already received some quite moving messages from people I know in Morocco, who maybe usually watch La Liga, Barcelona or Real Madrid.

“They are supporters of these teams but it is not the same thing. They are filled with pride just now. To be able to have a great party when we return to Morocco would be magnificent. And I know what I am talking about."

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

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