26 January 2017

Egypt/Ghana: Not Pretty, But Egypt Downs Black Stars

Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix
Goalkeeper Essam El Hadary of Egypt during his team's Afcon match against Mali on January 17.

It wasn’t pretty, but Egypt got the job done in their 1-0 victory over Ghana to top Group D at the African Nations Cup and extend their unbeaten run at the continental showpiece to 22 games.

Significantly it was the third clean-sheet in a row for the side in 2017, showing just what a tough nut to crack the North Africans will be for the remainder of the tournament.

They were, in fact, the only team in the pool phase not to concede a goal.

That will be tested when they come up against one of the more prolific attacks, and wily coaches in Herve Renard, in the quarter-finals against Morocco on Sunday.

But Egypt boss Hector Cuper can certainly be pleased with the way his side negotiated a difficult pool. Cuper says despite criticism around what is perceived to be an overly defensive game-plan, his team don't play for draws.

"We always think of winning whatever game we are going into," Cuper said. "I wished to play a better game especially in the second half, but we were facing a very strong team in Ghana. They were very dangerous, especially in the second half.

Cuper surprised with Ahmed Fathy at left-back, but says the experienced campaigner was just what they needed.

"Ahmed Fathy played as a left-back because it was a tough game and we needed his experience.”

Cuper can now look forward to the quarter-finals, with the team staying on in Port Gentil on what is arguably the worst of four very poor pitches at these Nations Cup finals.

"We will start immediately preparing for the quarter-final game against Morocco,” he said.

"Our ambition is very high and we are happy to win such a tough game. Our next game is even more difficult but I promise our supporters back home that we will fight til the last second."

Ghana coach Avram Grant now looks forward to a knockout clash with DR Congo, and says there are positives to take in defeat against Egypt as he was able to rest a number of key players.

"This is a game I think the team showed a lot of good spirit despite the fact that I rested a lot of the key players,” he said.

"I was happy because one of the things we are working on is mental strength and despite not scoring we came to the Egypt half and attacked several times.

"Congo is a good side and I know it will be a tough game but we will be up for it."

Ghana lost veteran forward Asamoah Gyan to a groin injury five minutes before halftime, and Grant is unsure whether he will be fit for the quarter-finals.

"It's not looking so good but Gyan is a very strong boy," he said. "We will need to wait and see. We will have a scan and then we will know better."

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