Egypt registered a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Lebanon in their opening Group D match of the FIFA Arab Cup Wednesday.
At the Al Thumama Stadium, a powerful penalty shot by Mohammed Afsha was enough to beat a resolute Lebanon defence led by goalkeeper Mostafa Matar in an encounter which was witnessed by vociferous fans of both sides.
Carlos Queiroz’s side was playing without Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny, Galatasaray’s Mustafa Mohamed, Stuttgart’s Omar Marmoush, and Altay’s Ahmed Yasser Rayan and it was reflected in their rusty performance.
Lebanon defence was up to the mark during most part of the match, but lack of aggression and a costly foul late in the second-half led to their defeat as they conceded a penalty and Egypt seized the opportunity to earn their first points.
Defender Ayman Ahsraf’s foul on Egypt’s Ahmed Fatouh in the 73nd minute undid all their efforts. Ahsraf brought down midfielder Fatouh inside the penalty area and the referee pointed to the spot and Mohammed Afsha found the net with a low shot to goalkeeper Matar’s right.
Egypt controlled the possession for most of the match and their forwards raided the rival’s penalty area regularly, but Matar and his defenders foiled their efforts every time.
Egypt continued to dominate the possession but with limited opportunities to move forward, while Lebanon couldn't find a way through as they started their campaign with a defeat.
Afsha admitted that Egypt did not play at its best and promised fans better performances in the next two matches. “All the teams are very strong. We were able to win and that’s the most important thing, and with the matches, we are going to improve. Every game has its own circumstances and every team has a way,” he said.
“All matches are difficult and we are now thinking about the next game against Sudan and god willing we will win. We have all the respect for all the teams, but we play in the name of Egypt. We have to be responsible and achieve something good in the tournament,” Afsha said.
Egypt goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shennawy felt the team was unlucky against Lebanon due to the amount of shots they missed during the game. “We wasted a lot of chances in the first-half as well as the second. We were unlucky,” El-Shennawy said.
“We faced a respectable team, and I thank the fans. Hopefully the next period will be better. We had to start with a victory in the tournament, and that was our goal. We are focused on the tournament, and everyone gave their best,” he added.
The match started with a couple of stoppages soon after the kick off due to injuries to Egypt’s Amr El Soulia and Lebanon’s Kassem El Zein. But it then picked up pace with The Pharaohs putting pressure on their opponents.
In the 13th minute Al Ahly midfielder Mohamed Sherif came close to scoring twice but his touches went just over the woodwork. An ambitious hit on target by a distance from Zamalek midfielder Mostafa Fathi was stopped by Matar. At the half-hour mark, Egypt already had nine attempts with four shots on target as they enjoyed around 75 percent of ball possession.
In the 33rd minute, Felix Michel Melki cleared the ball in a dangerous attack after Matar missed a touch in a goalmouth melee. Egypt missed another opportunity to score after Sherif’s attempt sailed just over the crossbar following a fine assist by Mohamed Magdi, three minutes before half-time.
The Africans started the second half with the same approach with El Soulia launching a strike but Matar was better placed to stop the ball. Lebanon started to counter attack and made a couple of attacks, though they did not pose much of a threat to the Egyptians.
In yet another threatening attack by Egypt, substitute Ahmed Refaat’s touch from near the penalty spot was well saved by Matar in the 55th minute. Looking to break the deadlock, Queroz sent in Zizo in the 65th minute while calling back Marwan Hamdy.
The defeat leaves Lebanon with much to do if they are to advance to the quarter-finals with Algeria taking the early lead in Group D after defeating Sudan 4-0.
Coach Ivan Hasek will be hoping for improvement when his team faces favourites Algeria in their second match of Group D – dubbed the toughest group in the tournament – on Saturday.