Cairo — HOSTS Egypt have opened their Africa Cup of Nations campaign with a slender victory over Zimbabwe at a sold-out Cairo International Stadium on Friday night.
Zimbabwe has stand-in goalkeeper, Edmore Sibanda, to thank that the scoreline a respectable 1-0.
Thrust into the starting XI in place of the suspended George Chigova, he gave a Man-of-the-Match performance to frustrate the rampaging hosts in this Group A encounter.
The Pharaohs were dominant inside the first quarter of the match but found the big goalkeeper, who plays in the South African first division, impenetrable.
Liverpool star and African Footballer of the Year, Mohammed Salah, floated freely on the right wing and was a constant menace until opposition leftback, Divine Lunga, settled down and neutralised the Egyptian's impact.
Zimbabwe gained confidence as the game progressed but had to wait until the 31st minute for a first shot at goal, which captain Knowledge Musona ballooned over the bar. Khama Billiat got an even better chance to grab an improbable lead but shot straight at Mohamed El Shenawy who smothered the ball for a corner after a quick Zimbabwean free-kick.
Sibanda was finally beaten in the 41st minute after a brilliant individual effort by Mahmoud Ahmed Ibrahim Hassan.
The Turkish-based winger, also known as Trezeguet capitalised on some inept play by The Warriors, glided past a couple of challenges before unleashing a curler into the net.
Trezeguet nearly extended the Egyptians lead early into the second half as the stanza opened in similar fashion as the first, but again, Sibanda pulled off a brilliant save.
The big Zimbabwe goalminder was called into action in the 66th as he dived to his left to smother a Salah effort.
Quite all game, Ovidy Karuru nearly leveled matters as his long-range drive stung the palm of El Shanawy but he safely collected after initially fumbling the shot.
Zimbabwe's goalkeeping woes worsened after injury forced Sibanda out of action, to be replaced by Elvis Chipezeze in the 80th minute.
However Chipezeze pulled off a brilliant save to deny Salah in the 77th minute, showing why coach Sunday Chidzambwa had a headache selecting his starting goalkeeper.
Zimbabwe finished the match the stronger of the two sides but Egypt hung on for a morale boosting victory ahead of their next encounter against the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Wednesday, the day Zimbabwe plays Uganda.
Starting XI EGYPT - Mohamed El Shenawi: Ahmed El Mohamady, Mahmoud Alaa El-Din, Ahmed Hegazy, Ayman Ashraf: Mohamed Elneny; Tarek Hamed, Abdalla El Said; Trezeguet, Marwan Mohsen, Mohamed Salah
ZIMBABWE - Edmore Sibanda; Devine Lunga; Teenage Lingani Hadebe; Alex Mudimu; Tendayi Darikwa; Marshall Munetsi, Marvelous Nakamba, Ovidy Obvious Karuru; Khama Billiat, Nyasha Mushekwi, Knowledge Musona