Egypt are a real threat

2009-06-19 00:00

WHILE Brazil qualified for the 2009 Confederations Cup semi-finals yesterday, the race for second place in Group A is wide open after Egypt stunned Italy 1-0 at Ellis Park last night.

Brazil qualified for the semis with their 3-0 defeat of the USA in the evening game at Loftus, the Americans’ second defeat of the competition sealing their exit before the semi-final stage.

Egypt and Italy have a win and a defeat apiece and the remaining qualifier from the Confed’s “group of death” will be decided in Sunday’s final round of group stage matches. Italy play Brazil at Loftus and and Egypt face the USA in Rustenburg.

Italy did not deserve to lose this game, nor did they deserve to win it. But for a brief spell at the end of the first half, during which Egypt scored via Mohamed Homos’s 40th-minute header from Mohamed Aboutrika’s corner, it was all the Italians.

The Egyptians, content to defend their lead in the second half, survived through dogged determination and a master class of goalkeeping by Egypt’s 36-year-old double African Nations Cup-winner Essam El Hadary.

Italy, 3-1 winners over the USA in their opener, piled on the pressure in search of an equaliser, but could not take their chances, with Vicenzo Iaquinto the main culprit.

In two performances, their thrilling 4-3 opening defeat to Brazil and now this ground-out victory over the world champions, African champions Egypt have announced themselves as a genuine threat on the world stage, and perhaps at next year’s World Cup.

This was one game that had no fear of empty seats and the stadium was packed to capacity with Italian and Egyptian fans. By the end of the match, though, there was no doubting who Ellis Park was behind and the Pharaohs were cheered on like a home team.

Egypt and Italy have much in common in style of play. They both rely on steel-like structure, precision and superb technical ability to win games.

In the opening 26 minutes, it was the Italians who put this to best effect as forward Giuseppe Rossi blazed over from the right of the area, before Iaquinta and then Rossi both hit powerful long-range shots over.

But, with Al-Ahly maestro Mohamed Aboutrika beginning to stamp his authority in his right-side deep forward role, the Egyptians finished the half stronger, and a goal to the good.

Hosni Abd Rabou’s rasping drive was touched over by the fingertips of Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. From Aboutrika’s resultant corner, tall central mifielder Homos got up free of a marker to bury a powerful header with five minutes to the break.

Egypt went into a defensive shell and forsook possession and territory in the second half, while Italy introduced the height and power of Luca Toni and more attacking Riccardo Montolivo for Gennaro Gattuso in midfield in the 58th minute, and pushed for an equaliser.

This the Azzurri should have done when Fabio Quaqliarella’s curling pass found Iaquinta, whose use of the arm to control the ball was missed by the officials and El Hadary pulled off a point-blank save.

In the 64th minute AC Milan midfielder Andrea Pirlo’s free-kick was just wide of the right upright.

El Hadary produced two more breathtaking saves from Iaquinta and Montolivo’s shots from within the box. Then the ’keeper somehow kept out Iaquinta’s stabbed effort at the far post with his legs.

Finally El Hadary was beaten in the 87th minute, but the ball struck the crossbar, and again by the unfortunate Iaquinta.

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