Two of the most successful nations in the continent go head to head in Group B of the Africa Cup of Nations when Egypt take on Ghana at the Stade Felix Houphouet-Boigny on Thursday January 18, 2024.
While both nations are favourites to make it out of the group on paper, a disappointing opening-day outing has put them under pressure to get the result here and we anticipate an action-packed contest.
Record seven-time African champions Egypt were on the headlines of one of the biggest upsets in the opening round of the 2023 AFCON as they found themselves trailing to Mozambique in the final minutes of stoppage time.
Ranked 111th in the latest FIFA World Rankings, Mozambique turned in a superb team performance as Witi and Clesio Bauque struck in a three-minute spell to cancel out Mostafa Mohammed’s first-half opener and put the Mambas 2#1 up.
However, Liverpool star Mohamed Salah came up clutch for the Pharaohs as he kept his cool under pressure and converted his 97th-minute penalty to spare their blushes and force a share of the spoils.
Prior to that, Egypt were on a three-game winning streak scoring 10 goals and keeping three clean sheets; a run which has seen them rise to first place in Group A of the World Cup qualifiers.
With Sunday’s result, Rui Vitoria’s men have gone six consecutive games without defeat across all competitions, claiming four wins and two draws.
The last time that Egypt failed to win their first two group-stage games at the tournament came in 1992, when they kicked off the campaign with a 1#0 loss to Zambia before suffering a 1#0 defeat against Thursday’s opponents Ghana.
The Black Stars enjoyed a smooth qualifying campaign as they finished as one of just three unbeaten nations, claiming three wins and three draws to pick up 12 points and clinch top spot in Group E.
However, they would suffer an even worse fate than Egypt in their group opening match as they fell to a shock 2#1 defeat at the hands of rank outsiders Cape Verde on Sunday evening.
Alexander Djiku grabbed his first goal for Ghana shortly before the hour mark to cancel out Jamiro Monteiro’s first-half opener, but Garry Rodrigues struck in the 92nd minute to hand the Blue Sharks a deserved victory.
This was another dismal AFCON result for the four-time champions, who have now failed to win any of their last five matches in the tournament, losing three and claiming two draws.
Chris Hughton’s side also suffered defeat in their opening game in Cameroon two years ago, losing 1#0 against Morocco, before they were stunned 3#2 by debutant Comoros, which saw their campaign come to an end in the group stages.
While Ghana will now look to avoid three consecutive AFCON losses for the very first time, they have lost three of their last four games against Egypt, with a 1#1 draw in the World Cup qualifiers back in November 2017 being the exception.
The last two AFCON encounters between the two nations have also seen the West African powerhouse suffer defeat, first in 2010 when they were beaten 1#0 in the final and most recently in 2017, when the Pharaohs picked a 1#0 victory in the group stages.
Salah was involved in both goals against Mozambique on Sunday, including his 56th international goal, and he will certainly be one to keep an eye out for.
Salah should spearhead the Pharaohs’ attack once again, alongside Mohamed Mustafa and Trabzonspor man Mahmoud Trezeguet, who made his 62nd international appearance at the weekend.
Mohamed Elneny, who has seen just 12 minutes of Premier League action this season, should retain his role in the centre of the park, forming the midfield trio with 29-year-old Hamdi Fathi and Zamek’s Zizo.
Egypt failed to impose themselves at the defensive end of the pitch against Mozambique last time out but we expect Vitoria to name an unchanged back four on Thursday.
Mohamed Abdelmonem and former West Bromwich Albion man Ahmed Hegazy should form the centre-back pairing once again, with Mohamed Hany and Pyramids’ Mohamed Hamdi taking up the full-back roles.
As for Ghana, they continue to sweat over the fitness of West Ham United forward Mohammed Kudus, who was a notable absentee in their opening-day defeat against Cape Verde.
Kudus has been in fine form for West Ham, scoring 10 goals and providing one assist across all competitions since his arrival from Ajax in the summer.
Andre Ayew came off the bench in the 62nd minute against Cape Verde to become the first player to feature in eight different AFCON finals and the 34-year-old should start from the bench once again.
Egypt possible starting XI
El-Shenawy; Hany, Hegazy, Abdelmonem, Hamdi; Zizo, Elneny, Fathi; Salah, Mohamed, Trezeguet
Ghana possible starting XI
Ofori; Odoi, Dijku, Salisu, Mensah; Ashimeru, Baba, Paintsil, Konigsdorffer, J Ayew; Semenyo
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