Egypt slumped to a 2-0 defeat by Senegal in their opening Group G game of the African Cup of Nations qualifiers (Photo: Ahram)
Egypt host North African rivals Tunisia on Wednesday with little room for error, with an African Cup of Nations place at stake after they kicked off their qualifying campaign with a 2-0 defeat at Senegal.
A new-look Egypt side were mediocre on a disappointing night in Dakar, with their error-ridden display leading to unopposed forays from the hosts who claimed a deserved win, thanks to two first-half goals from Mame Biram Diouf and Sadio Mane.
The two carbon-copy goals exposed Egypt's defensive frailties, with the sluggishness of the Pharaohs' three-man backline raising alarm bells as coach Shawky Gharib rebuilds an underachieving side who failed to reach the Nations Cup in 2012 and 2013.
Egypt are aware they can hardly afford another slip-up when they meet Tunisia at Cairo's army-owned Air Defence Stadium, which will only host up to 15,000 fans after the interior ministry agreed to partially lift the ongoing crowd ban.
"We have an excuse, we have only played four matches this year," Gharib, who succeeded American coach Bob Bradley following Egypt's failure to reach the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, said after the loss to Senegal.
"We can't compare the current crop with the previous generation which had players such as Mohamed Abou-Treika, Mohamed Zidan and Amr Zaki.
"There is a still long way in the qualifiers. We still have five matches left to make amends," added Gharib, who was the assistant of head coach Hassan Shehata during Egypt's hat-trick of Nations Cup triumphs in 2006, 2008 and 2010.
Gharib has more questions than answers amid reports he will make some changes to the starting line-up that produced a below-par performance against Senegal.
The changes will likely include replacing Zamalek's Khaled Kamar, who failed to impress against Senegal, with Ahly's promising striker Amr Gamal who injected zeal when he came on as a second-half substitute.
Central midfielder Hossam Ghaly could also make way for Hosni Abd-Rabou after he was repeatedly dispossessed in the centre of the field in the Group G opener.
Chelsea winger Mohamed Salah is expected to retain his place in the starting line-up despite a disappointing performance that saw him waste a couple of goal-scoring chances against Senegal, with Gharib leaping to his defence.
"Salah cannot simply do everything on his own. Football is a collective game," the 55-year-old added.
Egypt's left-back position poses a dilemma for Gharib.
Ahmed Fathi, a natural right-back, had a night to forget when he was deployed on the left against Senegal while doubts remain over the fitness of Zamalek's full-back Mohamed Abdel-Shafy.
Tunisia miss key players
Tunisia will have to do without key strikers Sami Allagui and Issam Jemaa, who were ruled out of the game due to injury.
The Carthage Eagles survived a scare from minnows Botswana in their Group G opener, having come from behind to earn a late 2-1 victory.
"Egypt's latest results cannot be taken as indication that their form has deteriorated, they're still a big African name," Tunisia's Belgian coach Georges Leekens said in the pre-match news conference.
"The pressure on the team and staff following their defeat in Senegal could prove a positive factor and not a negative one; it could motivate them even further to beat us,” he added.
"I hope both sides produce a big game; Egypt has a good squad."
Egypt's last meeting with Tunisia was a friendly game in the United Arab Emirates in 2012, with the latter claiming a 1-0 victory.
Their last competitive match was in 2002 when Egypt won 1-0 in the African Nations Cup group stage in Mali.
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