Mountain view

Alaa Abdel-Ghani , Tuesday 9 Nov 2021

If all goes according to the script, Egypt will be heading to the final stage of African qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, writes Alaa Abdel-Ghani

Ahly celebrate their impressive 5-3 win against Zamalek

Egypt could be one game away from appearing in a two-game playoff for the right to enter next year’s World Cup in Qatar.

Egypt is currently leading Africa’s Group F, which includes Angola, Gabon and Libya, with 10 points after winning three matches and tying one.

The Pharaohs are scheduled to face Angola in an away match in the fifth round of the qualifiers on Friday 12 November, then are to play Gabon in Egypt on 16 November in the final round of the group stage.

All Egypt has to do is beat Angola to preserve its group lead. The win would effectively end any chance of Egypt not finishing atop the group. After four games, Libya has six points, Gabon four and Angola three.

Egypt defeated Angola 1-0 in Egypt in its first group game. The Egyptians drew with Gabon away 1-1, netting the tying goal on the stroke of full time.

Only the top team from the 10 groups will qualify for a home and away fixture that will most likely entail much tougher opposition than what is at present being offered in the group stage. That is why Egypt would want to finish not just on top of its group but with as many points as possible to try to land a relatively easier opponent in the final stage to be played in March next year.

Morocco and Senegal have already ensured finishing first in their groups with two games to spare.

A total of five slots in the final tournament are available for African teams in the World Cup.

Egypt has been buoyed by the advent of its new coach Carlos Queiroz from Portugal who guided the team to back-to-back victories against Libya which at one time was heading the group.

Against Angola, Queiroz, an assistant to former Manchester United legendary coach Alex Ferguson, will apparently not stray too much from the formula that has led to two consecutive victories. But he will have to do without the services of Stuttgart winger Omar Marmoush who has yet to recover from a calf injury that sidelined him from recent Bundesliga games. The 22-year-old forward has been a revelation since making his international debut against Libya.

As for Egyptians playing abroad, Queiroz has called up Liverpool great Mohamed Salah and midfielder Mohamed Al-Nenni of Arsenal.

Queiroz also reinstated the Ahly duo of striker Mohamed Sherif and playmaker Mohamed Magdi Afsha after excluding them from the squad shortly after he arrived in Egypt.

However, Queiroz has done away, perhaps temporarily, with Zamalek midfielder Tarek Hamed, teammate winger Ahmed Sayed Zizo and Pyramids star Ramadan Sobhi. Queiroz has stated that he will not discuss the changes he makes.

Ahly and Zamalek are the two powerhouses of Egyptian and African football. The two fierce crosstown rivals teams met last week Friday in the traditional Egyptian league derby, won emphatically by Ahly 5-3.

In stunning fashion, Ahly, who won the league seven times before being dethroned by Zamalek last season, were up 3-0 inside the first 25 minutes. The highlight in that stretch was a perfectly executed but seldom used rabona - where the kicking leg is crossed behind the back of the standing leg - by Ahly midfielder Amr Sulaya to striker Sherif for the third goal.

In the second half Zamalek got one back following a guided missile fired by Mustafa Fathi, only for Aliou Dieng to quickly restore Ahly’s three-goal lead with a bullet curler of his own.

Ahly’s Tunisian left back Ali Maaloul made it 5-1 from the spot kick before Zamalek struck twice to make the score for Zamalek look a bit more respectable.

The scoreline was reminiscent of Ahly’s famous 6-1 derby win in 2002 and Ahly’s 4-3 victory over Zamalek in the Egypt Cup final in 2007.

Friday’s win gave Ahly nine points, tied with Pyramids FC, the only other team to bag maximum points from their opening three matches. Zamalek are fifth with six points.

Around 2,000 spectators, or 1,000 for each team, was allowed into Cairo International Stadium, a modest figure for sure, but better than the average of the past many seasons that has seen just a handful of spectators allowed due to various security concerns, Covid-19 and a database that bars known troublemakers and violent Ultras supporters.

Borg Al-Arab in Alexandria will host the Gabon game in which the Egyptian association has requested security authorities to allow 30,000 spectators.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 November, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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