Sports Mole previews the opening group fixture of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations between Egypt and Zimbabwe.
With Mohamed Salah in their ranks, the home nation have been backed to go all the way and lift the trophy for en eighth time.
Egypt won the AFCON the last time the competition was held on home soil in 2006, marking the start of three successive triumphs as they became the most successful side on the continent.
There have been four separate winners since then, but Javier Aguirre‘s side have been backed to add to their tally this time around, helped by a favourable group.
After taking on Zimbabwe in their opening game on Friday – a team ranked outside the top 100 in the latest FIFA rankings – Egypt face Congo and Uganda, ranked 90th and 80th respectively.
Nine points from nine will be the target and it is in the knockout stages that Aguirre’s men will truly be tested.
The Pharaohs endured a disappointing World Cup campaign in Russia last year, not helped by star man Salah being far from full fitness heading into the tournament.
After finishing bottom of a weak group with zero points from their three matches, the decision was made to change manager.
Aguirre has made Egypt entertaining to watch, summed up by the 20 goals scored in their last eight matches. That type of goalscoring form should stand the competition’s most successful side in good stead.
With a good blend between experience and youth in their ranks, the Pharaohs have the ability to go all the way on home soil once again.
Recent form (all competitions): WWDLWW
Zimbabwe head into the tournament on the back of successive draws against Tanzania and fellow finalists Nigeria who, like Egypt, are among the favourites.
The Warriors took four points off Congo in qualifying, but their record in the finals themselves is far from great.
They have made it to the competition proper three times, crashing out at the group stage in 2004, 2006 and 2017. In their most recent participation two years ago, Zimbabwe took a point off Algeria in their opening match and then lost to Senegal and Tunisia.
Avoiding bottom spot will be the first target this time around and, in a group with lowly-ranked teams, Sunday Chidzambwa will not rule out booking a place in the knockout rounds.
Striker Knowledge Musona and midfielder Marvelous Nakamba, the latter of whom has featured in the Champions League for Club Brugge, are both threats and the Warriors have the ability to cause an upset.
Chidzambwa declared himself happy with his team’s showings in their pre-tournament friendlies, setting them up nicely for this curtain-raising fixture.
“I am very proud of my boys because they played to my instruction,” he told reporters. “This shows that we are going to the African Cup of Nations in Egypt with high hopes and expectations.”
In keeping out Nigeria a week-and-a-half ago, Zimbabwe showed they can keep games tight – something that they will need to put to good use on Friday.
Recent form (all competitions): WWLWDD
Salah looks certain to start in his favoured right-wing position, with Marwan Mohsen leading the line.
The veteran striker, who plies his trade for Al Ahly at club level, scored a couple of goals during qualifying.
Mahmoud Hassan is another player to look out for in the Egypt ranks, having built up a good understanding with Salah in the frontline.
As for Zambia, they are sweating on the fitness of Khama Billiat.
The Kaizer Chiefs midfielder, considered one of the Warriors’ most dangerous players, has missed a couple of training sessions and is considered a doubt.
Elsewhere, Nottingham Forest ace Tendayi Darikwa is in line to retain his place.
Egypt possible starting lineup:
El Shanawy; Elmohamady, Alaa, Hegazi, Ahsraf; Hamed, Elneny; Salah, Warda, Hassan; Mohsen
Zambia possible starting lineup:
Sibanda, Mudimu, Phiri, Lunga, Billiat, Musona, Nakamba, Mushekwi, Karuru, Hadebe, Darikwa
Head To Head
Egypt have won their last four meetings with Zimbabwe and netted more than once in each of those matches.
On home soil, the Pharaohs have never tasted defeat to this week’s opponents and they have conceded just one goal across the four-such fixtures.
Overall, the sides have met on 14 previous occasions, with Zimbabwe winning twice and losing eight times.
We say: Egypt 2-0 Zimbabwe
Egypt are the most successful side in Africa Cup of Nations history and they will be looking to extend their record return to eight titles on home soil. They come up against the Group A underdogs in their opener and, while Zimbabwe do have one or two threats in their side, this should be a simple enough opening fixture to ease the hosts in.
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Publish date : 2019-06-19 19:56:46