The tables have turned

Alaa Abdel-Ghani , Tuesday 12 Oct 2021

After collecting maximum points from Libya in a crucial doubleheader, Egypt is now a firm favourite to take its group and move closer to a spot in the 2022 Qatar World Cup

The Egyptian national team defeats the Libyan national team
The Egyptian national team defeats the Libyan national team

Egypt took a commanding four-point lead in its African group as it edges closer to the World Cup in Qatar next year.

Egypt blanked Libya in Benghazi 3-0 on Monday, the second win of a doubleheader sweep that propelled it to the top of Group F in the African qualifiers.

Libya had gone down to Egypt 1-0 in Alexandria three days earlier.

After four games with two left, Egypt sits atop the perch with 10 points. Libya follows with six points. In third place lies Gabon with four points and Angola is at the bottom with three points.

There are 10 groups in Africa of four teams each. Only the group winner will advance to a two-match final playoff for one of Africa’s five places in Qatar.

The two victories against Libya were the first big test for Egypt’s new Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz who joined the team shortly before the twin bill when Libya was atop the group, two points ahead of Egypt.

The Libyan lead is what forced the Egyptian federation to look for a new coach but judging by the past week’s results, Libya flattered to deceive. Although the North Africans won their first two matches, they came up empty-handed against Egypt.

While they had the ability to pass aptly in midfield, the closer they got to Egypt’s goal, the less control they had over the ball. To lose at home by three goals shows most clearly that Libya was not to have been overly feared.

But Egypt was not taking any chances. In Alexandria, Omar Marmoush, the 22-year-old Stuttgart winger making his national team debut, scored the lone goal, rocketing the ball in the far right high corner.

In Benghazi, the Egyptians ran riot despite playing on unfamiliar artificial turf. Left back Ahmed Fattouh and Galatasaray striker Mustafa Mohamed made it 2-0 at the half and substitute Ramadan Sobhi put the game out of reach with a third goal on 71 minutes.

A thigh muscle pull suffered by Egypt goalkeeper Mohamed Al-Shennawi which forced his departure marred an otherwise perfect day for the Pharaohs.

Much of the focus, as expected, was on Egypt’s Liverpool winger Mohamed Salah, these days a Ballon d’Or candidate. Salah was a peripheral figure in the first game with Libya but more productive in the second, as he tried mainly to set up his teammates for goals.

In the meantime, in the same group, Egypt’s cause was helped by Angola and Gabon busily beating each other. During the week Angola beat Gabon 3-1, only for Gabon to defeat Angola 2-0, basically cancelling out each other’s victory.

Both teams are close to being eliminated and their sole remaining role would be to act as spoilers to Egypt’s march to finish top of the group and Libya’s slim hopes of catching up.

Next month, in the penultimate game, Egypt will play Angola in Luanda and will meet Gabon in Egypt in the final group game. As it stands, Egypt could in fact lose one of those games and still come out on top.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 October, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekl

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