Numbers do lie as Egypt struggle to hit top gear

Hatem Maher , Wednesday 3 Jul 2019,
Soccer Football - Africa Cup of Nations 2019 - Group A - Uganda v Egypt - Cairo International Stadium, Cairo, Egypt - June 30, 2019 Egypt's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring their first goal with Trezeguet REUTERS

Numbers usually don't lie but in some cases they might give a false indication as Egypt's perfect run in the Africa Cup of Nations group stage hardly reflects their workmanlike displays.

Labeled as sluggish and boring by their supporters, the hosts still did enough to top Group A with three straightforward wins over Zimbabwe, DR Congo and Uganda.

Scoring five goals and conceding none in the three games, Egypt proved one of the top-performing sides in the tournament in terms of numbers. But that does not tell the whole story.

Egypt struggled to create openings against their modest opponents, with Salah, who under former coach Hector Cuper used to run behind the defence and make the most of through balls, hardly fed.

Veteran playmaker Abdallah El-Said, who has forged very effective partnerships with Salah over the past two years, looks a shadow of his old self and the team are not helped by the presence of two defensive-minded players in the heart of midfield.

Left winger Mahmoud Trezeguet partly makes up for the lack of creativity in attack, with his tireless runs down the flank and new-found goal-scoring instincts causing menace to even resolute opponents.

Egypt also lacked spark under Argentinean boss Cuper but at least they took heart from some solid defensive displays, which helped them reach the 2017 Nations Cup final and qualify for last year's World Cup for the first time since 1990.

His successor, Mexican Javier Aguirre, vowed to end the team's over-reliance on defence when he took over, adopting bolder approaches.

But the end result is not what the fans had craved for long. Egypt looked short on both sides, struggling for creativity in the final third and leaving gaps for their opponents to exploit at the back.

"At least Cuper had a strong defence. But now, we neither attack nor defend," said former Egypt defender Wael Gomaa, who was key player of a hugely successful side that won the Nations Cup three straight times in 2006, 2008 and 2010. 

Egypt were given numerous let-offs in the three games, not least in the final Group A match against Uganda when the Cranes were guilty of spurning some clear-cut chances, slicing open the shaky defence on several occasions.

A quick glance at the statistics will show how the 2-0 defeat was harsh on a brave Uganda side, which managed 16 shots, including 11 on target, to Egypt's five. They also won nine corners compared to a solitary one for the record seven-time African champions.

"Winning is more important than the performance," skipper Ahmed Elmohamady, who scored twice in three games, told beIN Sports following the win over Uganda.

"We faced a tough opponent who played well, but we managed to win. The performances will improve in the coming matches."

Egypt should stick to Elmohamady's promise if they are to mount a serious challenge for an eighth crown.

With a better opponent coming up in the round of 16 on Saturday -- 1996 winners South Africa -- Egypt will have to significantly up their game to avoid an embarrassing exit on home soil.

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

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