Job done for Egypt after right players were picked in World Cup qualifiers

Hatem Maher , Tuesday 17 Nov 2015

Egypt's (L) and Chad's football team line up prior to the World Cup qualifying football match between Egypt and Chad in Borg El-Arab near Egypt's northern port city of Alexandria on November 17, 2015 (Photo: AFP)

It was so simple. When you are playing a modest team, merely picking the right players in the starting line-up will be enough to secure a comfortable victory.

That was the case for Egypt who had been contemplating an unthinkable scenario when they lost 1-0 at Chad in the first leg of the World Cup qualifying second round on Saturday: exiting the qualifiers from a preliminary stage.

Although the Pharaohs have not reached the World Cup since 1990, they are perennial participants in the final stages of any qualifying marathon. They were on the verge of reaching the 2010 and 2014 editions only to lose to Algeria and Ghana respectively in playoffs.

They breathed a sigh of relief after crushing minnows Chad 4-0 at Alexandria's Borg El-Arab Stadium, thanks to a brace from Ahmed 'Kouka' Hassan and goals from Mohamed Elneny and Abdallah El-Saied.

Argentinean coach Hector Cuper came under fire for his choice of players and formation in the first leg, having played with a classic 4-4-2 formation featuring two strikers, two wingers and two central midfielders.

Winger Moemen Zakareya, who is not even a regular starter for Cairo giants Ahly, was uninspiring on the right and the two frontmen, Basem Morsi and Ahmed Kouka, drew a blank.

Central midfielders Mohamed Elneny and Tarek Hamed rarely charged forward and Chad caught the defence napping to score a stunner in the second half, thanks to a diving header from Ezechiel N'Douassel.

Right choices

Cuper made the right choices in the second leg to help Egypt assert complete control from the very beginning, switching his formation to 4-2-3-1. 

It's true that Chad were obviously worn out after arriving in Alexandria just in time for the game after repeated flight delays back home but Egypt also looked a completely different side.

One reason for that was the presence of Zamalek's prodigy Mostafa Fathi, who was surprisingly left out of the first leg. He replaced Zakareya on the right flank and produced a vivid display full of trickery and feints.

The 21-year-old, who kept nutmegging challengers at will, had a hand in the first goal when he found right-back and club teammate Omar Gaber with a deft pass down the flank to cut the ball back to Mohamed Elneny, who rifled home from inside the area.

Fathi then whipped in an inch-perfect cross with his weak right foot for Ahly playmaker Abdallah El-Saied to head home the second and was unlucky not to score himself on several occasions in the second half.

"This is the real start of Fathi's international career. He showed character in an important match and was never afraid. Yes the opponents were not strong but he still rose to the occasion," said former Egypt striker Mido, now coach of Egyptian Premier League side Ismaily, during his post-match analysis for Al-Hayat TV.

El-Saied, who marked his 13th international appearance with his first goal for Egypt, also produced an assured display to make up for the lack of a natural playmaker in the first leg.

Fathi and Mahmoud Kahraba, who played on the left wing, are more of onrushing forwards who mainly rely on their trickery to carve out openings, unlike El-Saied who counts on his ability to split the defence with through passes.

"There is no player now who can play the role of El-Saied. He is composed on the ball and that's very important," Mido said.

The former Tottenham, AS Roma, Marseille and Ajax Amsterdam frontman also had words of praise for skipper and Ahly's veteran midfielder Hossam Ghaly, who replaced Tarek Hamed in the heart of midfield and dictated play with some astute passes.

"The current crop of the young players needed a leader. This leader was Ghaly," Mido said.

Egypt will be drawn into a four-team group, with the winners directly reaching the 2018 finals in Russia. The draw will be made in July next year and the group stage will start in October.

"We should not be carried away because this was not a stern test. We will play much stronger teams," said former Egypt skipper and the world's most capped player Ahmed Hassan, who led Egypt to a hat-trick of Nations Cup titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

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