Ahead of the first round of African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers this week, Martin Lowe (@plasticpitch) looks at a tie between two sleeping giants of the continent, whose recent AFCON disappointments suggest a win or bust attitude, as they kick off their campaigns on Friday evening in Dakar.
Neither Senegal nor Egypt have performed to their nation’s lofty ambitions over the past few years. Indisputable thrashings in last year’s World Cup playoffs against Ivory Coast and Ghana, respectively, illustrated how far they remain behind the pack. But a return to competitive action just over a month after the World Cup final promises a new dawn for both of these countries.
Senegal have experimented heavily in the last nine months since their World Cup elimination, generally dismissing their established stars in favour of unproven and raw potential. Senegal coach Alan Giresse also took a temporary step back, allowing his assistant, Olympic coach and national team legend Aliou Cisse, to run the rule over the new crop of players as they achieved decent draws against Colombia and Burkina Faso, either side of a victory against Kosovo.
Alongside Giresse’s return to the hot seat in the last month, as do the established stars that would push into contention for any African squad. Besiktas striker Demba Ba, along with Fenerbahce battering ram Moussa Sow are a dependable strike force to supply goals, while Cheikhou Kouyate, who has just moved to England with West Ham United, will provide some stability going the other way. Of the new generation that have impressed over the last 6 months, goalkeeper Pape Demba Camara and playmaker Moussa Konate have forced their way into their first competitive squad, while Mame Diouf and Papiss Cisse are left out due to lack of form and injury, respectively.
Egypt’s “new start” is more tangible as they try to rekindle their rich AFCON history which saw them dominate the continent at the turn of the century before failing to qualify for the last two editions. Shawky Garib was immediately brought in as head coach to replace American Bob Bradley after their humiliating defeat against Ghana, who had failed to live up to his appointments hype. Immediately Garib has brought in a few interesting packages from the domestic league who have impressed in recent friendlies, but the true test will be in competitive action later this week.
Squad wise, centre back Ahmed Hegazy returns to the fray after injury, while erratic midfielder Shikabala and playmaker Ahmed Hamoudi have been included to replace the attacking ability of the injured Mohamed Gedo. The true driving force of this Egyptian side is the inventiveness of their youth in midfield. Deep lying Mohamed El-Neny who is attracting advances at Basel and flying winger-come-forward Mohamed Salah who has excelled for the national team ever since his explosion onto the scene at the 2012 Olympics. Despite a lack of domestic action with Chelsea, he remains a key to progression in qualification.
The key, as is the case generally in African international football, is the clash of styles. Senegal remain reliant on their usual physical style, offering pace and strength on the counter-attack. Egypt, however, are much more of an unknown in this regard since the appointment of Garib. While tactical cautiousness and resilience are still present, a new breed of creation and pace could offer an alternative approach. Garib has experimented with a back three since taking charge, utilising the energy of Ahmed El-Mohamady down the right, while continuing to try and strike the right balance to get the best out of Salah, either out wide or down the middle.
An encounter that sees two sides coming off the back of a miserable time on the continent, you’d be forgiven to expect a tight affair. Senegal’s fragile defence and physically impressive attack doesn’t afford for a dull affair while a host of exciting attacking talents in the Pharaohs line-up promises an end to end thriller. “We have no choice but to win,” Garib told the press earlier this week, indicating a full blooded affair, full of goals, setting the stage for one of the highlights of the international break.
Senegal: Coundoul – Cissokho, L.Sane, Djilobodji, Souare – Gueye, S.Sane, Diame – Ba, N’Doye, Sow.
Egypt: Ekramy – Hegazy, Rabia, Ghazal – El-Mohamady, Ghaly, El-Nenny, Fathi – Salah, Shikabala – Kamar.