A trademark composed finish from Mohamed Salah in stoppage time gave already-qualified Egypt an exciting 3-2 home win over Tunisia in their penultimate Nations Cup qualifier on Friday, maintaining their 100 percent start under Javier Aguirre.
The Pharaohs came out on top in their first real test under the Mexican coach, whose first three matches in charge ended with comfortable wins over Niger and eSwatini (twice).
An end-to-end affair looked as though it was heading for a draw but Salah, who was somewhat quiet until then, sent fans at Alexandria’s Borg El-Arab Stadium into raptures with a brilliant finish after a neat exchange with substitute Salah Mohsen.
Egypt fell to an early goal from Naim Sliti but turned the match on its head with a deflected shot from livewire winger Mahmoud Trezeguet and a close-range header from central defender Baher El-Mohamadi either side of the interval.
However, Sliti netted again after a defensive blunder to restore parity, only for the ever-reliable Salah to settle the tie into Egypt’s favour in typical fashion.
He took his tally to 39 international goals to move third in Egypt’s all-time top scorers list, 30 goals behind former Ahly and Zamalek striker Hossam Hassan.
Egypt are joint top with Tunisia on 12 points but the latter look favorites to finish on top, given their better head-to-head record virtue of the away goals they scored against the Pharaohs. Tunisia beat Egypt 1-0 in their opening qualifier in June 2017.
Tunisia meet eSwatini and Egypt play Niger away from home in the last round of games in Group J next March.
Tunisia had the better of the early exchanges, with forward Wahbi Khazri striking the upright with a superb curling free-kick after two minutes.
Egypt’s enthusiastic home crowd was silenced on 13 minutes when Sliti sneaked in between Ahmed Elmohamady and Baher El-Mohamadi to race goalwards after a threaded pass from Cairo-based midfielder Ferjani Sassi, who plays for Zamalek.
Sliti bamboozled Elmohamady and made the most of a needless rush out by goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shennawi to drill a low shot into the bottom corner.
Tunisia were then pegged back, with Egypt pushing forward en masse in a bid to restore parity.
Trezeguet was their liveliest performer with some tireless moves down the left. He had a curling effort pushed away by goalkeeper Farouk Ben Mustapha on 21 minutes before equalizing 10 minutes later.
A cross was flicked by lone striker Marwan Mohsen to the path of Salah, who barely had space to shoot, leaving Trezeguet to gather the ball and hit a deflected shot that wrong-footed Ben Mustapha from inside the area.
Egypt were even more aggressive after the break, laying siege to Tunisia’s area with the visitors defending doggedly.
The pressure yielded a second goal on the hour mark when El-Mohamadi rose unmarked to head home from close range after an inviting free kick from PAOK winger Amr Warda.
Salah could have put the result beyond doubt on 70 minutes when he tricked his challenger on the right hand side of the area, only to see his left-foot shot strike the outside of the near post.
Sliti scored against the run of play just two minutes later to level the score, firing home from four yards out after the sliding Ahmed Hegazi made a hash of a clearance from a low cross.
Salah had the last word at the death though, playing a one-two with Mohsen, skipping past his challenger with a brilliant piece of individual skill before chipping the ball over the keeper with his left foot.