Why Egyptians are not certain Salah and company can beat Bafana in Afcon showdown

Egypt's Mohamed Salah in action with Uganda's Faruku Miya.
Egypt's Mohamed Salah in action with Uganda's Faruku Miya.
Image: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/File Photo

Egyptians are nowhere near as confident as South Africans might think of their national team beating Bafana Bafana in Saturday's 2019 Africa Cup of Nations last-16 clash at Cairo International Stadium.

The current Egyptian team‚ with Liverpool hitman Mohamed Salah on the right and in-form Trézéguet on the left‚ has not captured the imagination of the public despite three clinical wins - 1-0 against Zimbabwe‚ then 2-0 against DR Congo and Uganda - in Group A.

The reasons will sound familiar to South Africans.

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Coach Javier Aguirre - the man who led Mexico against Bafana in the opening game of the 2010 World Cup - is seen as too defensive.

And‚ ironically‚ it is the defensiveness‚ but also good structure‚ that has seen Bafana's performance under Stuart Baxter provoke anger from the public at home that has some Egyptians worried.

Mohamed Said‚ a sports presenter for Al-Nahar TV‚ expressed genuine concern that Bafana might even beat Egypt.

Explaining why‚ he WhatsApped: "Actually‚ our national team is not strong like past times. Yes‚ we have a good defence but we still have a big problem in the midfield and attackers.

"So the two players who can make the difference are Mohamed Salah and the left winger‚ Mahmoud Hassan Trezeguet.

"But your team is well organised and it will be a problem for us."

Ahmed El Ghatas‚ the foreign press coordinator for Cairo giants Al Ahly‚ said Mamelodi Sundowns' 5-0 win against his club - still much-talked about in Egypt - in the past Caf Champions League adds an edge to the match-up of the national teams.

"For Egyptians‚ with South Africa‚ it's a bit competitive‚ especially with the defeat of Al Ahly by Sundowns‚" El Ghatas said.

"Most Egyptians want payback for what happened. At the same time we're not satisfied with our national team's performance.

"But it's not going to be easy for Egypt to lose a game against South Africa in this Nations Cup. Because if you lose a game at club‚ and then also national‚ level‚ it's going to be like a shame on everyone."

El Ghatas was more positive on Egypt's chances.

"I think it's 70/30 maybe‚ for us. We are quite confident. Because of our attacking part‚" he said.

"And Mo Salah‚ of course. I think we have an advantage."

The Ahly official said the football of Aguirre and his predecessor‚ Argentine Hector Cuper‚ who guided the Pharaohs to a 2-1 defeat against Cameroon in the 2017 Nations Cup final‚ has not been popular.

"It's because we are used to a very entertaining style in football. We like to dominate‚" El Ghatas said.

"But in this tournament‚ or the last one‚ we don't see the Egyptian team we are used to."

Expensive match tickets‚ meaning‚ as in 2010 in South Africa‚ real football fans are not necessarily in the stadium‚ and Egypt's hardline president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi being seen as using the tournament for self-promotion‚ have also watered down the positive feeling for the country's national team.

Bafana‚ like Egypt‚ have been criticised for defensive football by their public.

SA finishing fourth-best on the best third-placed teams log means they were effectively the weakest qualifiers for the last-16. They should have no chance against Egypt.

But look up at the scoreboard. It reads: "Egypt 0 South Africa 0".

This has to be - in the mould of their coach - one of the most stubborn and obstinate teams South Africa has sent to a Nations Cup.

Even when they are on the verge of boarding the plane home‚ they find a way to stay.

Can that be enough for them to beat Egypt? Who knows? But it has to count for something.

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