Hosts Egypt suffered a shocking elimination from the African Cup of Nations round of 16 after conceding a late goal against South Africa on Saturday, with another lethargic display costing them dear this time around.
Thembinkosi Lorch netted the decisive goal five minutes from time after finishing off a neatly-worked breakaway, with Egypt paying the price of their defensive frailties as they needlessly poured forward en masse to settle the tie before extra time.
A sell-out crowd at the 75,000-seat Cairo Stadium were duly silenced, with the shell-shocked Egypt players looking in disbelief and tears coming into the eyes of star forward Mohamed Salah, who two years ago led the team to the Nations Cup final in Gabon where they lost to Cameroon.
The stunning elimination marked Egypt’s worst-ever performance as hosts. They twice won the tournament as hosts in 1986 and 2006, losing in the final in 1959 and the semi-finals in 1974.
It’s also the second major surprise of this edition after Morocco lost to Benin on penalties on Friday. South Africa will now meet Nigeria in the quarter-finals after the Super Eagles claimed a thrilling 3-2 win over Cameroon earlier on Saturday.
Despite bagging maximum nine points in the group stage with wins over unfancied sides Zimbabwe, DR Congo and Uganda, Egypt were far from convincing as they could only produce wormanlike performances.
A disciplined South Africa side shackled Egypt’s key marksman Salah and launched repeated counter attacks, which eventually gave them a memorable win. Even when the Pharaohs did breach their steadfast defence, Mahmoud Trezeguet was guilty of two glaring misses.
The first half was evenly balanced, although South Africa had the best of the goal-scoring chances, striking a fine balance between defence and attack.
Egypt created the first opportunity as early as the fourth minute, Salah’s low shot from inside the area after a poor defensive clearance narrowly missing the target.
South Africa then grew bolder, displaying an intricate passing game in their opponents’ half as Egypt left many gaps in midfield, with only the combative Tarek Hamed carrying out his defensive duties.
Lively attacking midfielder Percy Tau proved a handful for defenders, with his twists and turns unsettling them. Goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shennawi had to be alert to deny him on two occasions, palming away his shot from the edge of the area before pulling off an even better save to tip his curling free-kick over the crossbar.
But Egypt could have still taken the lead had it not been for a surprise miss from Trezeguet, one of the team’s standout performers of the tournament.
A three-on-three counter attack saw Salah unselfishly slip the ball to the Turkish-based winger, whose weak right-foot shot from a goal-scoring position was easily collected by keeper Ronwen Williams.
He also squandered Egypt’s only real chance after the break, with another threaded pass from Salah slicing open the defence and finding him unmarked but he sent a tame left-timer into Williams’ hands with the goal at his mercy.
In a bid to beef up his attack, Egypt coach Javier Aguirre introduced under-fire winger Amr Warda, who was briefly suspended before being reinstated in the team as several women accused him of sending lewd messages to them on Whatsapp.
But he made little impact and South Africa deservedly snatched a win with five minutes remaining.
Lebo Mothiba collected a pass on the right and with only central defender Ahmed Hegazi on his way, he squared the ball to Lorch who drilled a low shot past the advancing El-Shennawi and into the net to break the hearts of the home fans.
Source: Ahram Online