Cairo: Mohamed Salah’s Egypt started their bid for a record-extending eighth Africa Cup of Nations trophy on Friday with a 1-0 win over Zimbabwe in Cairo in the opening game of a tournament expanded to 24 teams and played in June and July for the first time.
Liverpool star Salah, on a redemption mission with Egypt after injury derailed a miserable World Cup campaign last year, looked sharp although the hosts needed a 41st-minute goal by Mahmoud ‘Trezeguet’ Hassan to get off to a winning start in Group A. Man of the match Mahmoud Alaa said after the victory: “I congratulate all the Egyptian people on the first win.”
The defender added: “We should be better in the upcoming matches. Our aim in this competition is to win the title.” In keeping with April’s spectacular tournament draw under the gaze of the Sphinx, a striking 30-minute opening ceremony preceded kick-off in Cairo, where a backdrop of pyramids and statues from Egyptian mythology mixed with elegant dancers set the stage for a fireworks display to illuminate the ground.
The arrival of the Egyptian players for the warm-up induced a deafening roar from the capacity 75,000-crowd, who predictably reserved the loudest reception for Salah as his name was read out among the starting line-ups. With the temperature having dipped to a more palatable 27 Celsius (81 Fahrenheit) by the start Egypt — the tournament favourites and 2017 runners-up — immediately looked threatening, with Salah orchestrating much of the attack as he swung in a pair of teasing crosses, the second forcing Edmore Sibanda to tip over a looping Marwan Mohsen header.
Zimbabwe’s efforts to play out from defence backfired and the talented Trezeguet, formerly of Anderlecht and now with Kasimpasa in Turkey, shifted the ball onto his right foot before sweeping clinically into the far corner. Trezeguet had previously scored three times in five qualifiers for the event....