Preview: Egypt vs Senegal - Do or don’t

Alaa Abdel-Ghani , Thursday 24 Mar 2022

It’s crunch time for the two African countries as they vie for a spot in this year’s World Cup

Egypt s forward Mohamed Salah (R) fights for the ball with Senegal s midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate (L)
Egypt s forward Mohamed Salah (R) fights for the ball with Senegal s midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate (L) and Senegal s defender Kalidou Koulibaly during the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 final football match between Senegal and Egypt at Stade d Olembe in Yaounde on February 6, 2022. AFP

Egypt and Senegal meet on Friday in a titanic clash, both eyeing a second successive World Cup appearance. This time, though, only one of them can go to the World Cup.

The 25 March collision in Cairo is the first of a two-leg qualifying playoff for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Game two is 29 March in Dakar.

The last time these two met was only last month when Senegal beat Egypt on penalties in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) played in Cameroon.

While Senegal will be hoping to add a World Cup showing - also at Egypt’s expense - to its AFCON victory, Egypt’s African loss in the final could galvanize it to seek a measure of revenge.

Even though the Lions of Teranga are now 18 in the world and the Pharaohs 34, no country is truly good enough to beat the other three times in a row. Splitting the spoils – AFCON for Senegal and a World Cup appearance for Egypt – seems a likely scenario, even though the latter prize is supposedly worth more.

Senegal have appeared in the World Cup on two occasions, the more famous being in 2002 when they reached the quarter-finals, as far as any African country has gone in world football’s showpiece. That team of El Hadji Diouf, Henri Camara and Papa Bouba Diop beat defending champions France and defeated a strong Swedish side before succumbing to Turkey.

Senegal and Egypt were in the 2018 World Cup in Russia and both failed to go to the knockout stage - but there are varying degrees of failure. Senegal and Japan finished the group stage in second place, tied with four points each, however, Japan advanced to the round of 16 via the fair play rule (Senegal were the first team in World Cup history to be eliminated after having collected more yellow cards). On the other hand, Egypt’s performance was a fiasco, finishing 31 out of the 32 teams, losing all three group stage games.

Egypt would certainly want to do much better in Qatar but they must first get by Senegal. Senegal do not boast the same stars they once had but they have big guns in Sadio Mane, Edouard Mendy, Abdou Diallo, Kalidou Koulibaly and Ismaila Sarr.

Egypt, meantime, are not helping their own cause after coach Carlos Queiroz inexplicably left out striker Mohamed Sherif just as last season’s top scorer in the Egyptian league is regaining his scoring touch, scoring five goals in the last five appearances.

Sherif’s absence, coupled with call-ups for Galatasaray striker Mustafa Mohamed and Smouha's Marwan Hamdi, both of whom were undistinguished during the AFCON, plus a foot injury picked up by star forward Mohamed Salah against Brighton in the Premier League makes you wonder who is going to get the goals against Senegal.

Spectators totalling 60,000 are expected in the 75,000-seat Cairo Stadium on Friday, the biggest crowd seen in Egypt in a decade. Security issues and later the coronavirus allowed only a fraction of that number in the country’s stadiums.

Many of Egypt’s young players have never played in front of such a large number of home fans which could prove detrimental as much as motivational. Should the team be tied or losing to Senegal during the match, the pressure cooker that is Cairo Stadium could put undue stress on the less experienced members of the squad.

Like before the AFCON final, Salah and Mane, both 29, will be, at least in the eyes of the media, the star attractions in Friday’s showdown, with the rest of their teammates a supporting cast. It’s not a fair depiction especially since Egypt reached the AFCON final without much help from Salah who was a peripheral figure throughout much of the tournament.

There is no argument that Mane for Senegal plays much better than Salah does for Egypt. Salah simply does not shine for his country the way he does for Liverpool. Against Egypt in the final in Cameroon, Mane had a penalty saved in the first five minutes but scored the decisive spot kick when it mattered most, capturing MVP of the tournament.

Now would be as good a time as any for Salah to do a Mane.

Unlike the historically dominant African nations, Senegal is relatively new on the scene, meeting Egypt only 13 times – winning five against the Pharaohs, losing six and drawing twice.

The closeness of the head-to-head record does not make predictions for the two upcoming encounters any easier, although it should be noted that Senegal have won the last three meetings, including AFCON.

Queiroz has taken South Africa, Iran and Portugal to World Cups. Can he repeat with another team?

He has warned his players that there is no room "for sorrys or tomorrows," stressing "we can fly, and nothing is impossible". Egypt’s players are not being asked to soar in the sky or do the impossible but they would presumably have to beat Senegal in Cairo in the first leg if they stand any chance of making a fourth World Cup appearance. 

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