Egypt's breakaways make up for defensive woes in opening win over Congo

Hatem Maher , Sunday 9 Oct 2016

A snapshot of Egypt's team before their World Cup qualifier away to Congo on Sunday

Had it not been for Mohamed Salah's pace, Egypt could have easily stumbled in an opening Group E clash at Congo in the World Cup qualifiers.

But the AS Roma winger, despite two glaring first-half misses, rose to the occasion with a lively display to help Egypt come from behind and earn a 2-1 win over Congo in Brazzaville, heading home in the first half to restore parity before setting up Abdallah El-Said for a precious second-half winner.

It looked as if every Congolese cross would end up in the back of the net.

Zamalek's duo Ali Gabr and Islam Gamal, who formed a partnership in the heart of a four-man Egyptian backline, looked shaky and hardly dealt with numerous crosses from both flanks, with one of them resulting in a 24th-minute opener from Congo's Ferebory Dore.

The absence of Ahly's towering defender Ahmed Hegazy, who is still recovering from a nagging injury, was strongly felt and the Zamalek pair repeated the same mistakes which saw their club lose 5-2 at Morocco's Wydad Casbalanca in an African Champions League semi-final second leg, although the Cairo giants eventually reached the final on an aggregate win.

But every time Egypt recovered the ball following a defensive scare, Salah's marauding runs at the other end ensured Congo would remain on the back foot.

He was guilty of squandering two clear-cut chances but headed the equaliser shortly before the break after making the most of a pinpoint cross from left-back Mohamed Abdel-Shafi.

His goal was almost undone by Congo's barrage of crosses in the second half, with some half-hearted defensive clearances giving the hosts a chance after chance of restoring their advantage.

However, Egypt remained adept in breakaways, as they have always done since Argentinean coach Hector Cuper took over in March 2015, with Salah combining with in-form playmaker El-Said to net a 58th-minute winner.

A long ball from impressive central midfielder Tarek Hamed released Salah on the right, with the 24-year-old pulling the ball back from the byline to the onrushing El-Said to fire into the roof of the net.

Egypt still have their work cut out if they are to overcome main challengers Ghana next month, given their obvious weaknesses in dealing with any long balls.

"Some problems need to be addressed, including how we deal with crosses and how our central defenders deal with direct passes in the heart of the backline," said former Egypt striker Mido during his post-match analysis on beIN Sports.

"But we are on the right path, and if we defeat Ghana we will be in a very strong position to qualify for the World Cup."

Egypt have not reached the football's most prestigious showpiece since making the second of two appearances in the 1990 edition in Italy.

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