Egypt rely on solid defence despite backline overhaul

Karim Farouk , Saturday 5 Feb 2022

"Attack wins you matches, defence wins you titles," this famous quote from Sir Alex Ferguson has forged the mentality and philosophy of his devout apprentice Carlos Queiroz that shaped Egypt at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.

Mohamed Abdel-Moneim
Morocco s Mohamed Sobhy, left, is challenged by Egypt s Mohamed Abdel-Moneim during the African Cup of Nations 2022 quarter-final soccer match between Egypt and Morocco at the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium in Yaounde, Cameroon, Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022. AP

Scoring only four goals in six matches, Egypt have reached the final courtesy of their solid defence and cautious approaches.

Egypt boast the strongest defence in the tournament, having conceded only two goals -- just like Senegal but the Pharaohs have played a lot more minutes and against stronger opponents.

After a tame display in their opening game, which saw them lose 1-0 to Nigeria, the record seven-time African champions claimed narrow 1-0 wins over Guinea-Bissau and Sudan to advance to the knockout stage.

The Egyptians were able to contain some fearsome attacks en route to the final.

They kept at bay the likes of Cote d'Ivoire's Sebastien Haller, Nicolas Pepe and Wilfred Zaha, Morocco's Youssef En-Nesyri and Munir El Haddadi and Cameroon's deadly pair Vincent Aboubakar and Kartl-Toko Ekambi, who scored 11 goals between them to sit on top of the scorers' chart.

In his preferred 4-3-3 scheme, Queiroz's defence remained compact. It was also helped by some impressive saves from goalkeepers.

Egypt started their Nations Cup campaign with Ahly keeper Mohamed El-Shennawi standing between the sticks and Ahmed Hegazi marshalling the defence along with the rock-solid Mahmoud El-Wensh.

The versatile Akram Tawfik was deployed as a right-back and Ahmed Fattouh on the left, with Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Elneny dropping back to help defenders and Abdallah El-Said and Amr El-Sulaya providing cover on the flanks.

Later on, combative midfielder Hamdi Fathi was brought in to replace 36-year-old El-Said, who could not match the pace and strength of his rivals, with the task of closing down spaces in midfield and pressing opponents wherever they are.

Fattouh has been another standout performer in this tournament with his darting runs on the left flank and solid defending, which saw him get the better of PSG and Morocco full-back Achraf Hakimi in Egypt's 2-1 quarter-final win.

Hit by injuries

Egypt were dealt an early blow as Tawfik was ruled out of the tournament with an ACL injury only 11 minutes into the game against Nigeria, followed by Fattouh who was taken off at the break with a muscle injury that sidelined him for a couple of games.

Substitutes Omar Kamal, who is playing in his first major tournament, and Ayman Ashraf proved to be reliable.

El-Wensh also pulled out of the game against Guinea Bissau with a muscle injury to make way for the rookie Mohamed Abdel-Moneim, who turned out to be one of the stars of the tournament, claiming the Man of the Match award twice against Morocco and Cameroon.

Keeper El-Shennawi also sustained a hamstring injury against Cote d'Ivoire and was replaced for Mohamed Abou-Gabal, who excelled in two shootouts to play a key role in lifting Egypt to the final.

He blocked a decisive spot-kick from Cote d'Ivoire's Manchester United defender Eric Bailly and saved two others in the semi-final against Cameroon.

Towering defender Hegazi, Man of the Match against Sudan in the group stage, was also ruled out of the rest of the tournament after picking up a groin injury against Morocco.

Omar Kamal, who deputized for Akram Tawfik in the right-back position, will also miss the final after collecting a second booking against Cameroon in the last four, adding to Egypt's woes.

Natural midfielder Emam Ashour was deployed as a right-back for a few minutes against Cameroon, making him a frontrunner to play the same role against Senegal on Sunday.

Queiroz was forced to completely reshuffle his backline but the substitutes proved to be more than reliable. They will now be facing their ultimate test against the mighty Teranga Lions, who boast the likes of Sadio Mane, Ismailia Sarr and Idrissa Gana Gueye, who will also come up against the most challenging opponent.

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