AS Roma winger Mohamed Salah netted in stoppage time in a rare foray forward as Egypt secured a precious 1-1 draw away to Nigeria that kept them at the top of their group in the African Cup of Nations qualifiers on Friday.
Salah scored with aplomb after being set up by substitute Ramadan Sobhi, who surprisingly started on the bench, as Egypt shared honours with Nigeria who had taken a 60th-minute lead through home-based striker Etebo Oghenekaro.
The pacy Salah could have even snatched a winner had it not been for a surprise referee's whistle to signal the end of the game just when the 23-year-old was going through on goal from the halfway line.
The valuable draw put Egypt in a comfortable position before they host Nigeria in the second of a double-header at Alexandria's Borg El-Arab Stadium on Tuesday.
Egypt, who have not qualified for the Nations Cup since winning the last of their record seven trophies in 2010, have seven points from three games, two ahead of Nigeria and three clear of third-placed Tanzania. Chad lie at the bottom with no points.
The winners will automatically reach next year's Nations Cup finals in Gabon.
Although Egypt on paper played with a lone striker in Ahmed 'Kouka' Hassan supported by three attacking midfielders, they adopted a cautious strategy that saw the entire team focus more on keeping opponents at bay rather than pressing for a goal that would have dampened the spirit of an enthusiastic crowd at the Ahmadou Bello Stadium in Kaduna.
In the first half, Egypt restricted Nigeria to some tame shots from the edge of the area which was easily dealt with by goalkeeper Ahmed El-Shennawi, soaking up early pressure and attempting to hit the hosts on the break.
The Pharaohs managed to launch a solitary dangerous breakaway after 18 minutes when Salah outpaced his marker then cut inside him on the right before feeding playmaker Abdallah El-Said, who found the unmarked Kouka at the far post but the Sporting Braga man's shot was denied by the outstretched legs of keeper Carl Ikeme.
Apart from an effort from Watford's Odion Ighalo when he blasted over the bar from inside the area following a goal-mouth scramble on the stroke of halftime, Egypt's four-man backline was largely comfortable in a scrappy first period.
But Nigeria intensified their pressure in the second half, laying siege to Egypt's area and finally taking advantage of their opponents' unwillingness to either gain more possession or take a bolder approach.
Ahmed Musa exchanged passes with a teammate to slice open the defence and jink into the area but his low shot was collected by El-Shennawi on 55 minutes. The breakthrough came five minutes later, sending the home fans into raptures.
Manchester City forward Kelechi Iheanacho was given too much space in the area to rattle the crossbar with a powerful shot, with the ball then falling kindly to Oghenekaro to slot home into an empty net at the far post.
Egypt remained on the backfoot after falling behind, looking disjointed and disorganized as Nigeria were unlucky not to extend their advantage, with substitute Victor Moses on one occasion rounding El-Shennawi before rolling a shot that was superbly denied by a brilliant goal-line clearance from 34-year-old full-back Hamada Tolba, who was making his competitive international debut after some solid displays with Cairo club Zamalek.
The introduction of striker Marwan Mohsen instead of Kouka and Sobhi instead of Anderlecht's on-loan midfielder Mahmoud Trezeguet injected zeal but Egypt still struggled to create goal-scoring chances.
It was not until the first of a three-minute stoppage time that Egypt made their presence felt with a precious goal that silenced the crowd and sparked wild celebrations on the visitors' bench.
Sobhi, an in-form 18-year-old playmaker who has produced a series of superb displays with Egyptian giants Ahly lately, threaded a pass to Salah who timed his move to perfection to beat the offside trap and curl a shot into the far corner.
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