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Lethargic Egypt downed in Tunisia in opening Nations Cup qualifier

Hatem Maher , Monday 12 Jun 2017
Egypt's midfielder Mohamed Elneny reacts after his team lost to Cameroon in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations final football match between Egypt and Cameroon at the Stade de l'Amitie Sino-Gabonaise in Libreville on February 5, 2017 (File photo: AFP)

Egypt's defensive strategy that took them to the African Nations Cup final earlier this year failed to pay off on Sunday as Tunisia claimed a 1-0 home victory in their opening group game of the 2019 qualifiers.

Yassine Khenissi nipped in between two markers to fire the winner three minutes into the second half at Rades Stadium, giving the Carthage Eagles a perfect start to their Group J campaign.

Tunisia lead the group with three points, two ahead of Niger and Swaziland who played out a 0-0 draw on Saturday.

Egypt's last competitive victory over Tunisia was at the 2002 Nations Cup and they lost twice to their North African rivals in the qualifying campaign for the 2015 edition.

The Pharaohs' coach Hector Cuper remained loyal to his normal defensive game plan, whcih was cited by many as the main reason for the team's progress to the Nations Cup final in Gabon, but was let down by a lethargic performance devoid of spark and imagination.

Egypt held firm with a trademark cautious display in the first half but they still struggled to contain the aerial threat of Tunisia, with left-back Ali Maaloul, who plays for Egyptian giants Ahly, whipping in some inviting crosses.

Tunisia defender Syam Ben Youssef headed against the post following a flick from Yassine Meriah early on and sent another header high over with the goal at his mercy following a mis-timed jump from Egypt goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy on 33 minutes.

Taha Khenissi also missed a sitter on the stroke of halftime when he rose above Ahmed Fathi to meet a left-wing cross with a header that went over the crossbar.

Egypt defended in numbers but barely launched any breakaways, with AS Roma forward Mohamed Salah shackled on the right flank and natural winger Mahmoud Kahraba, who played as a lone striker, unable to impose himself physically in the final third.

Tunisia caught Egypt by surprise and took a deserved lead in the early stages of the second half, thanks to a rare lapse of concentration from central defensive duo Ahmed Hegazy and Ali Gabr.

Impressive playmaker Youssef Msakni threaded a delightful pass between Hegazy and Gabr, with Khenissi making the most of the through ball to place an angled shot into the bottom corner, although Ekramy got a hand to it.

Egypt's only chance fell to playmaker Abdallah El-Said, whose audacious chip with three defenders surrounding him narrowly missed the target on 56 minutes.

Tunisia comfortably held on in the latter stages while Cuper's introduction of striker Amr Gamal and attacking midfielders Amr Warda and Mostafa Fathi hardly made an impact.

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