Egypt on brink of ending 20-year Olympic drought

Hatem Maher, Saturday 3 Dec 2011

Egypt are on the verge of reaching next year’s Olympic Games for the first time in 20 years after beating South Africa on Saturday

Egypt 2-0 South Africa
Egypt beat South Africa 2-0 in Group B of the U-23 African Championship

Egypt edged closer to ending their long wait for an Olympic appearance after beating South Africa 2-0 on Saturday to qualify for the U-23 African Championship semi final in Morocco.

Two second-half goals from midfielder Mohamed El-Nenni and striker Marwan Mohsen gifted Egypt a deserved win that helped them finish on top of Group B with six points from three games.

Ten-man Gabon caused an upset after coming from behind to beat Ivory Coast 3-1 and finish second on four points to join Egypt in the semis. They went through due to their better head-to-head record than Ivory Coast, who also collected four points.  

The young Pharaohs will reach next year’s London Games for the first time since the 1992 edition in Barcelona if they overcome hosts Morocco, who finished as Group A runners-up, in the semi-final on Wednesday.

If Egypt lose, they will still have two chances to qualify for the Olympics. A third-place finish at the African Championship will lift them through while a fourth-place finish will pit them in a playoff against an Asian representative.

Slow start

Egypt’s slow start allowed South Africa to launch an early raid that could have resulted in a first-minute goal when a volley by Thami Sangweni from the edge of the area went just wide.

The sole first-half chance for Egypt came after four minutes when a fine curling shot by forward Ahmed Sherweida just missed the target.

Lack of spark hampered Egypt’s midfielders, who struggled to dictate play and feed attacking trio Sherweida, Mohsen and promising forward Mohamed Salah, who was nowhere near his best.

South Africa soon took control, catching out Egypt’s left-back Islam Ramadan and exploiting the gaps behind him on several occasions.

However, they were thwarted by in-form keeper Ahmed El-Shennawy, whose timely rush out of goal blocked a one-on-one effort on 17 minutes.

Ramadan had to be replaced ten minutes before the break after picking up an injury, making way for Aly Fathy who surprisingly started on the bench despite being included in Egypt’s starting line-up in the previous two matches.

Impressive El-Shennawy

Egypt made a bright start to the second half, opening the scoring just one minute after the restart when Sherweida laid off the ball to El-Nenni, whose powerful left-foot shot from just inside the area went into the top corner.

Mohsen doubled their lead in the 63rd minute when he was found unmarked by a left-wing cross from Fathy to head home from close range.

South Africa piled on pressure to narrow the gap but a string of impressive saves from El-Shennawy kept Egypt’s two-goal cushion intact.

The Masry custodian, who is linked with a move away from the Port Said-based club when the transfer window re-opens in January, blocked some fierce drives from Thandani Ntshumayelo and Christopher Flandrop.

Egypt had several chances to add to their tally, including a late effort from Sherweida who raced clear but could not beat South Africa keeper,  as they held onto their advantage to claim a precious win.

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