CAIRO, Egypt, Jun 22 – Hosts Egypt kicked off their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations campaign on a high, beating Zimbabwe 1-0 in the opening game played at a fully packed Cairo International Stadium on Friday night.
Mahmoud Trezeguet slammed home the all-important goal as the Pharaohs chalked in their first three points to roll off their mission for a record-stretching eighth African title well on course.
In a fully packed stadium where the decibels hit deafening crescendos, Egypt were more than motivated to have their best start to the tournament and clinch the trophy just like they had done in three of the last four times they played at home.
For most of the first half, it turned out to be a contest between the Egyptians and Zimbabwe shot stopper Edmore Sibanda with Liverpool winger Mo Salah being the chief architect in opening up the Warriors’ backline.
Inside the first minute, Sibanda had already made two saves. First, he stepped a yard off his line to tip over a teasing cross from Salah and from the resultant corner made another brilliant finger tip save to turn behind Marwan Mohsen’s header off Salah’s cross.
Salah was in the mood to get things going and created most of the chances. After nine minutes, a qick interchange of passes saw Salah break into the box to set up Mahmoud Said, but the latter’s shot was well saved by Sibanda.
Said had another chance few minutes later, this time when Salah’s cross was punched his way by Sibanda, but he couldn’t keep his shot low with the goalmouth at his mercy from 10 yards out.
All through, it was Egypt all the way with the more than 60,000 fans in the stadium cheering their every move. Zimbabwe had been forced to play on the back foot and were limited in their chances. Knowledge Musona tried an effort from range but it was blocked even before it could get to the target.
Nine minutes to the break, they almost caught Egypt flat out when a freekick was quickly played to Khama Billiat, but the Kaizer Chiefs forward was denied by a good save from Mohammed El Shanawy.
Zimbabwe and Sibanda finally cracked four minutes to half time and it was much thanks to some uncommitted defensive mistakes. Trezeguet was left to play all the way from the left before exchanging passes with Ayman Ashraf.
He took one touch to set himself up before curling a beauty beyond the keeper and sent the whole stadium to pandemonium.
The home side stuck to their offensive plan in the second half and Trezeguet nearly scripted the same copy four minutes after the restart but this time Sibanda read his curler well stretching to his left to parry the ball behind for a corner.
Sibanda came to Zimbabwe’s rescue again in the 66th minute, doing his best to keep out a low shot from Mo Salah on his weaker right foot after a brilliant Trezeguet pass sent him through.
Sibanda however had to come off in the 77th minute after failing to sustain the pain from a heavy knock he received in the first half. In his place came Elvis Chipezeze. The sub did his bit as well and he made a great save in the 86th minute to keep off a Mo Salah effort from inside the box.