Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Ivory Coast 0-0 Egypt (4-5 pen.): Three things as Pharaohs progress to AFCON quarterfinals

Veselin Trajkovic in Editorial 27 Jan 2022

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An intense battle between the Ivory Coast and Egypt in the round of 16 of the African Cup of Nations ended goalless after 120 minutes, and after Egypt backup goalkeeper Mohamed Abou Gabal saved a penalty taken for the Ivory Coast by Manchester United defender Eric Bailly, Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah scored the decisive spot kick to send his team through to the quarterfinals. On Sunday, the Pharaohs will face Morocco, who beat Malawi on Tuesday by 2-1.

An equal contest

Had this match been played in the group stage, or any kind of a point-based system, a share of the spoils will undoubtedly have been the outcome that reflected the balance between the two teams best.

The Ivory Coast started strongly, pushing Egypt to defend with everything they’ve got for the opening 10-15 minutes, but Egypt soon bounced back and established an equal contest throughout the pitch. Both teams had plenty of chances to swing the tie their way, but the two defences and goalkeepers alike performed to a great standard to deny the attackers.

Egypt looked particularly dangerous and more likely to score in the third quarter of the match, but the Ivorians regrouped towards the end, with Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha bringing a lot of energy with him as he came on from the bench in the 71st minute.

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The Ivory Coast had slightly more control of the ball with 56% of possession, while Egypt had a higher number of shots – a total of 14, seven on target, compared to the Ivorians’ total of 10, eight of which went towards the goal.

The Egyptians probably won’t be looking back on this match and regret the wasted chances, but the Ivorians, particularly Ajax striker Sebastien Haller, certainly will.

Eric Bailly

The Manchester United centre-back will want to forget this game as soon as possible, given it was a perfect example of a hero-to-villain story for him.

Bailly played a great match, denying the Egypt attackers time and again with timely tackles, interceptions, blocks and clearances. For 120 minutes his focus did not waver – he was a pillar of strength in the back line, along with Simon Deli.

Therefore, the fact that it was him, and only him, who failed to score in the penalty shootout is very harsh. We’ve seen some truly great players do the same in biggest matches down the years, and though it must’ve been (and must still be) a painful moment in Bailly’s career, no sensible Ivory Coast supporter will hold it against him. Had it not been for Bailly, whether there would be any penalties at all is questionable.

The way he took his penalty – a very short runup and a little hop just before the kick, indicated shaky nerves and a desire to get it over with as soon as possible. Some praise should still, of course, go to Mohamed Abou Gabal in the Egypt goal, who showed good reflexes to raise his hand and divert the ball onto the crossbar.

Mohamed Salah

One of the best ways to describe Bailly’s performance in this contest is to say he played a really big part in keeping one of the best attacking players in the world very quiet. When United faced Liverpool at Old Trafford earlier this season, the Egypt captain scored a hat-trick for the Merseysiders, but Bailly wasn’t playing. He was left on the bench in favour of Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof, and this game indicates it may have been a mistake to leave him out on that day.

Nonetheless, Salah still managed to show his class. He didn’t score in 120 minutes, but it was extremely hard work for any defender that faced him, most often Ghislain Konan of Stade de Reims, to deal with him. 

The Liverpool goal-machine created several chances for his teammates and, luckily for the Ivorians, he was overlooked by them a couple of times too.

But his moment eventually came. He was the player who took that final penalty, the 10th of the shootout, and unlike Bailly, his nerves were made of steel as he sent Badra Ali Sangare, the excellent Ivory Coast goalkeeper, one way and the ball the other – straight into the net.

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Speaking to the press ahead of this clash, Salah said that the African Cup of Nations trophy, should his team win it, would be the one closest to his heart despite winning the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup, the FIFA Club World Cup and the Premier League with Liverpool. The winger obviously loves his country above all, which, in addition to his superb quality on the pitch, makes him the perfect player to lead Egypt into the last stages of the competition.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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