Egypt vs South Africa:
The Pharaohs of Egypt prepare to face the Bafana Bafana of South Africa for a place in the quarterfinals with an entire nation holding their breath over the fitness of their Pharaoh King Mo Salah.
Seven time record winners and hosts Egypt will try to book a place in the quarterfinals against 1996 champions South Africa.
Egypt are one of the favoutites to win the competition, and they have not disappointed so far with three wins in three and yet to concede a goal in the competition. They qualified as A winners after beating Zimbabwe 1-0, the DRC and Uganda on identical 2-0 wins.
South Africa managed to book a place in the round of 16 as one of the four best third place teams, after finishing third in Group D behind Morocco and Ivory Coast. They were beaten by Morocco 1-0 and suffered a similar score line against Ivory Coast before beating neighbours Namibia to earn three points, just enough to see them through.
In their previous two meetings, Egypt have won both (in the group stage of the 1996 tournament and in the final of the 1998 tournament in Burkina Faso).
Egypt have lost just one of their last 27 games in the AFCON (the final of the 2017 edition in Gabon to Cameroon 2-1), won 20 and drawn six.
However, the Pharaohs might go into this round of 16 game without Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah who missed training on Thursday.
Salah who has scored two goals in their previous three games, was told by Egypt coach Javier Aguirre not to “worsen his condition” by training.
The entire nation is holding its breath hoping to see Salah in the starting 11 against South Africa, because his absence will be a big setback for them.
Egypt who have won three of the previous tournaments they have hosted, only failing to win in 1974, have not won the competition since winning it three times in a row between 2006 and 2010.
South Africa’s English coach Stuart Baxter has played down his side’s chances of beating the host, especially as South Africa managed to score just a goal in an unimpressive display in their group stage games.
For Gernot Rohr of Nigeria, working on individual errors will be a key to success.
“The fact that we’re playing against the home nation is inspiring,” said Baxter.
“Knowing the Egyptian people, knowing their passion for football, knowing their expectations are very high, knowing that they have some great players, I believe that the pressure would be more on them?.
South Africa’s only victory in the tournament came against neighbours Namibia in a narrow 1-0 win, but Baxter says his side will “quietly believe we can cause an upset”.
“We know that we will have to play very, very well because this is a good Egyptian team and they will have massive support,” he added.
“It’s our job to bring maybe some frustration. If we can do that and the crowd becomes a little bit impatient, the players will feel that on the field.”
Egypt have shown more offensively and defensively than the South Africans, their chances will also be boosted by a partisan home crowd in the Cairo International Stadium who want nothing than ultimate glory (this could be a double-edged sword)
Players to Watch
Mahmoud Ahmed Ibrahim Hassan ‘Trezeguet’ (Egypt)
Position: Midfielder Club: Kasımpaşa S.K. Age: 24
Mahmoud Trezeguet is having the AFCON of his life, though he has remained under the shadow of the national idol Mohamed Salah. The Kasımpaşa S.K. midfielder is both a scorer and provider for Javier Aguirre’s side.
Percy Tau (South Africa)
Position: Forward: Union Saint-Gilloise Age: 25
South Africa’s ‘Messi’ is yet to get off the mark in this tournament and knows that the South African people look back at the glorious days of Mark Williams, Mark Fish, Neil Tovey and the rest with a lot of nostalgia. It’s his chance or maybe to write him his name with bold ink In South African football folklore.