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Uri Levy

AFCON 2017: Football legend's 'terrorism' verdict upsets Egypt performance

Egypt ended the game with a disappointing display [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 18 January, 2017

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Another disappointing display for North African teams in this year's AFCON, but Egypt's performance could have been impacted by the furor over a guilty verdict for a football legend.
Egypt played Mali in Gabon on Tuesday in the first round of games in the Africa Cup of Nations, which ended with another disappointing result for North African clubs.

The match opened amid reports that Egyptian football legend Mohammed Aboutrika had been found guilty of "assisting terrorist activities".

Arab social media erupted in fury with many pointing out that the news was suspiciously released just an hour before Egypt's opening match in the AFCON, when the eyes of the nation were on the team in Gabon.

Aboutrika, a philosopher by education, is a huge symbol at Cairo-based al-Ahly football club. The 2011 revolution - which saw al-Ahly ultras strongly support - was reflected in his football and he was strongly linked with the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt.

He had already run into trouble with Egyptian authorities a few times in the past, and spent the past few years working as a football commentator for Qatar-based sports broadcaster BeIN.

Back at the match in Gabon, Mali opened the match at a much stronger pace than Egypt. The North African team seemed to count only on passes towards Roma star Mohammed Salah, while Mali attacked in waves using multiple players.

Goalkeeper Ahmed El-Shenawy needed to stretch his arms out a few times in order to stop the Malians from scoring.

The pitch conditions at the Stade de Gentil prevented the game from any quality display of football developing.

Both teams' players struggled to produce their regular form, and few of them even got injured.

Egypt's goalkeeper El-Shenawy hurt himself badly while stopping a dangerous header.

Then a big moment in the match arrived when he was replaced with the 44-year-old Essam El-Hadary, who broke a record becoming the oldest player ever to compete in the tournament.  It is his seventh AFCON tournament and the man is a phenomenon.

In the final minutes of the first-half Mali attacked fast and looked far more dangerous than Egypt. Coulibaly, Marega, Traore, Sako and Yatabre really put pressure the Egyptian defence, but couldn't pose a real threat on goal.

In the second-half it continuted but in a rare Egyptian counter-attack Mahmoud Trezeguet found Marwan Mohsen who headed good but the Malian goalkeeper Oumar Sissoko stopped the ball with an acrobatic move.

Egypt woke up after this move and began to attack but without any purpose. Possession continued to be split equally as both teams held the ball well.

On the 70th minute Hector Cupr, Egypt's Argentinean coach, made a controversial move and took "main man" Mohammed Salah off the pitch. He was replaced with Ramadan Sobhi. Salah wasn't brilliant in the match, but obviously looked very unhappy at being substituted, particularly so early on in the tournament.

Mali almost scored in the 78th minute after a good set piece - flicked on by Salif Coulibaly's header - but went wide. Egypt threw Ahmed Hassan "Koka" into the game but despite his efforts his shots weren't accurate at all.

El-Hadary produced a few more valuable saves in the money time to keep Egypt in the safe zone. The veteran goalkeeper is a real asset for the Pharaohs.

Egypt had an option of a last counter attack in the final moments of the game but Mali stood strong and stopped them from advancing.

All in all, it was a very disappointing game for the Egyptians who did not look close to achieving their potential. Egypt are one of the favourites to win the competition, but with a display like this it certainly won't be enough to lift the title.

So far, the first round has been pretty grim for the four North African teams with two losses and two draws against much weaker teams. Let's see what the next round of games will provide us with.

Egypt: Ahmed al-Shenawy  (Sub - Essam El-Hadary 25'); Ahmed Fathy (yellow card 91'); Mohamed Abdul Shafy; Ahmed Hegazi; Ali Gabr; Abdalla El-Said; Mohammed Salah (yellow card 67', Sub – Sobhi 70'); Marwan Mohsen (Ahmed Hassan 76'); Mohammed Elneny; Trezeguet; Tarek Hamed; Coach: H. Cúper

Mali: O. Sissoko; O. Coulibaly; M. Wague; S. Coulibaly; H. Traore; B. Sako; S. Yatabare (Sub- Bissouma 65'); Mamoutou N'Diaye; Y. Sylla; L. Coulibaly (Sub- Sow 72' – yellow card 89'); M. Marega; Coach: A. Giresse

 Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here


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