Zimbabwe Warriors fight but fail to stop Egypt in Afcon opener
Zimbabwe goalkeepers Edmore Sibanda and Elvis Chipezeze have worked hard to deny hosts Egypt who laboured to a 1 — 0 nil victory over the Warriors in an electric Africa Cup of Nation opener in Cairo.
Egypt won the game against a strong Zimbabwean side through a 40th-minute goal by Mahmoud ‘Trezeguet’ Hassan.
Trezeguet cut inside from the left after Zimbabwe carelessly gave the ball away. He twisted through the back-tracking Zimbabwe defender Alec Midimu before curling a right-footed shot into the right of Edmore Sibanda’s goal.
Coming into the game as underdogs, Zimbabwe have their two goalkeepers to thank for not conceding more than the single goal.
Trezeguet strike proved decisive as Egypt missed out on a myriad of chances to make a bigger impact but will be satisfied to have taken the first three-point haul of the month-long event.
Trezeguet’s finish overshadowed a return to Cairo for Champions League winner Mohamed Salah, whose every touch was loudly cheered but who had a frustrating evening as he could not convert his chances.
A packed crowd of 70,000 – many of whom had queued from up to 12 hours before kick off to enter the stadium – ensured a heady atmosphere at the Cairo International Stadium.
With the temperature having dipped to a more palatable 27 Celsius (81 Fahrenheit) by the start Egypt, the tournament favourites and 2017 runners-up, immediately looked threatening, Salah orchestrating much of the attack as he swung in a pair of teasing crosses — the second forcing Edmore Sibanda to tip over a looping Marwan Mohsen header.
Salah was again involved 10 minutes later, intricately exchanging passes on the edge of the Zimbabwe box to carve out a chance for Abdallah Elsaid, whose shot was palmed away by Sibanda before Trezeguet lashed over the rebound.
As Zimbabwe struggled to develop any sort of rhythm with outstanding midfielder Khama Billiat contained, Salah again had a boisterous, largely red-clad crowd on their feet when he wriggled past his marker only to shoot over from a difficult angle.
A blocked attempt by Zimbabwe captain Knowledge Musona represented the southern Africans’ lone genuine attempt in the first half as a dominant Egypt eventually broke through just before half-time.
Zimbabwe’s efforts to play out from defence backfired and the talented Trezeguet, formerly of Anderlecht and now with Kasimpasa in Turkey, shifted the ball onto his right foot before sweeping clinically into the far corner.
Trezeguet, who scored three times in five qualifiers for the event, was quickly sensing another when his curling 20-yard strike was flicked behind by a sprawling Sibanda.
The Zimbabwe goalkeeper felt the brunt of a crunching collision with Mohsen on the hour, producing a courageous stop to deny the forward after a clever first touch created the opportunity.
Sibanda was again tested low to his right by a Salah effort on his weaker foot, with Egypt ‘keeper Mohamed El Shenawy finally called into action to handle a speculative Billiat drive just before the second of two mandated heat breaks on 70 minutes.
It appeared Salah’s moment was going to arrive in the final minutes but Sibanda plunged low to his left, with substitute Amr Warda perhaps offering the forward a better option across the face of goal.
Egyptian hearts were momentarily in mouths when an unmarked Evans Rusike rose to meet a cross but he was unable to keep his header down, allowing Egypt to emerge with an opening three points in their quest to win the competition for the fourth time as hosts in five editions.
The Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda are the other teams in Group A and they meet Saturday at the same venue, while Nigeria begin their campaign against newcomers Burundi in Alexandria.
Guinea meanwhile take on Madagascar, the second of three countries appearing in the event for the first time.