Encouraging signs for Egypt but getting carried away is no good

Hatem Maher, Saturday 11 Oct 2014

Egypt showed noticeable improvement in a 2-0 win at Botswana in the African Nations Cup qualifiers but the team is still a work in progress

Egypt's national team in a training session before defeating Botswana 2-0 in Gaborone in Friday's African Nations Cup qualifier (Photo: Ahram)

Egypt's display in a 2-0 win at Botswana on Friday was in stark contrast to two mediocre performances in a disastrous start to their African Nations Cup qualifying campaign but the team should not get carried away if they are to stage a comeback and reach next year's Morocco finals.

The ailing Pharaohs, who embarked on a rebuilding process under coach Shawky Gharib, eased past Botswana with two second-half goals from Mohamed Elneny and Mohamed Salah in Gaborone to revive their qualification hopes, having suffered opening losses to Senegal and Tunisia.

Although they still wasted some goal-scoring opportunities, Egypt's frontline looked more productive after drawing a blank away to Senegal and at home to Tunisia, with attacking midfielders Walid Soliman and Salah roaming tirelessly behind lone striker Amr Gamal.

A reshuffled backline that saw Ahly duo Mohamed Naguib and Saad Samir deployed in the heart of the defence was barely troubled, with a three-man midfield stealing the limelight with a composed display in terms of defensive and attacking duties.

Zamalek's Ibrahim Salah, a tough-tackling defensive midfielder, closed down spaces and made sure Botswana's forwards were interrupted every time they got out of their own half while Amr El-Sulaya and Elneny, who opened the scoring with a blistering right-foot drive, fed the forwards with some astute passes.

El-Sulaya, an injury-prone Ismaily midfielder, was particularly impressive, giving an all-round performance and sending neat long balls upfield as he proved a perfect replacement for Ahly's veteran midfielder Hossam Ghaly, who was benched after being widely criticized for giving away possession far too easily during the past couple of games.

"Egypt were successful tonight because Gharib fielded the right men, abandoning the needless choices he made against Senegal and Tunisia," former Egypt striker Mido, who was sacked as Zamalek coach in the summer despite leading the club to the Egypt Cup title last season, said in his post-match analysis for beIN Sports.

"This is the way a team should be run. I hope the players who played so well against Botswana will retain their place in the next game in Cairo," he added.

Egypt are expected to comfortably overcome Botswana on Wednesday but they should bear in mind that two successive victories over the Southern African minnows can hardly give a clear indication of whether there is a vast improvement.

Weak opponent?

A relieved Gharib, who widespread reports suggested would have been sacked had Egypt failed to beat Botswana, listed several reasons why the seven-time African champions had looked more convincing this time around.

This included the start of the new season, with the Egyptian Premier League matches giving him a better insight as he opted to ring the changes after coming in for fierce criticism following the opening two defeats, which jeopardized the team's chances of reaching the Nations Cup for the first time since lifting the last of their record seven titles in 2010.

"The players' fitness levels notably improved because they are now playing regularly. We were unlucky to face Senegal and Tunisia when there was no domestic action and the players were not fully ready," Gharib said.

"But now, we had four players who were out because of injury but we weren't affected because there are others who can deputize," he added, referring to an injured quartet including regular keeper Sherif Ekramy and influential duo Ahmed Elmohamady and Hazem Emam, who both play on the right flank.

But the former Smouha boss, who was assistant to Hassan Shehata during Egypt's hat-trick of Nations Cup triumphs in the past decade, is aware that he can’t get carried away with a win over a relatively weak opponent.

"Botswana are not on the same level as Tunisia and Senegal," he admitted.

The real test lies in the last two matches against Tunisia and Senegal, with a third successive failure to reach the biennial tournament deemed unthinkable for Egypt's football-mad supporters.

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

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