Egypt and Mali served a dour offering in their opening Group D game at the African Nations Cup finals on Tuesday, playing to a 0-0 draw that was contested mostly in the midfield and provided little in the way of entertainment.
Egypt, making their return to the continent’s grandest stage for the first time since 2010, had to wait until the second half for their first chance of the game, while Mali had an opportunity saved late on.
It was a match played on a poor pitch at the Stade de Port-Gentil but turned into a bruising physical battle with both sides seemingly nervous to take risks in trying to take the game by the scruff of the neck.
Mali coach Alain Giresse said he did have some “regrets” afterwards in that his side did not force the issue more, but also seemed pleased with the point gained.
"The team was able to present a performance that is so required at this level, but we can perhaps have some regrets because there were few opportunities. I thought we could win,” he told reporters.
“We missed the final pass. We were well organised, tactically we were good, but to score a goal depends on that final pass.
"But the important thing was that we were good in many areas in this match, given the quality of the opposition it was a good performance.”
Ghana defeated Uganda 1-0 in the other Group D game on Tuesday and Egypt coach Hector Cuper says this result does not change their plans in any way – they still need to keep on winning.
“It was a very difficult game,” he said. “In the second half we played better but our players were very tired towards the end.
“We would be much happier of course if we had won but this will not really change too much what we need to do in our coming games.”
The match was most notable for the introduction as an injury replacement after 23 minutes of goalkeeper Essam El Hadary, who at the age of 44 became the oldest player ever to appear at the Nations Cup finals.
The veteran stopper had little to do in the game, although he did pull off a save near the end to deny Mali’s Moussa Marega.