Egyptian and Arab football fans will be watching with bated breath the decisive confrontation between the Egyptian and Moroccan national football teams in the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) on Sunday, which will be held at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in the Cameroonian capital, Yaoundé, which has a capacity of 50,000 fans.
The Egyptian team is looking for its eighth title while the Moroccan team is aiming to claim its second African title, which it has not won in 43 years.
It is expected that Sunday’s confrontation will witness a strong and fierce competition due to the distinguished elements that each team possesses, whether at the continental level or in international football.
The match will be tactical and intense between the two teams. The Egyptian team will bet on its defence, which has conceded only one goal in the four matches the team played, in addition to its stars in the attack, led by Mohamed Salah.
The Moroccan team will rely on the physical strength of its attackers and the skill of its wingers, most notably Achraf Hakimi, who starred in the matches he played during the first round and against Malawi in the round of 16.
Over the past few days, the two teams have been studying each other, and the Pharaoh’s Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz has been focused on stopping the danger of Ashraf Hakimi.
Queiroz, during the past hours, has worked to prepare all the elements in the camp and to prepare alternatives for the injured players so that everyone would be ready to face Morocco.
This comes after more than one player in the Egyptian national team was injured, most notably Mohamed El-Shennawy and Hamdy Fathi, and before them Akram Tawfik, who returned to Cairo for a cruciate ligament operation.
Queiroz and his assistant staff will select between Muhannad Lashin and Ayman Ashraf to be in the official formation of the Egyptian national team against Morocco in order to compensate for the absence of Fathi, who was injured in the Cote d’Ivoire match in the final price of the AFCON.
The Egyptian Football Association announced that Hamdy Fathi will miss the Morocco match in the AFCON’s quarter-finals.
It is expected that the Egyptian national team will start with a formation consisting of Mohamed Abu Jabal, Omar Kamal, Ahmed Hegazy, Mohamed Abdel Moneim, Ahmed Fattouh, Amr Al-Souliya, Mohamed Elneny, Muhannad Lashin (Ayman Ashraf), Omar Marmoush, Mohamed Salah, and Mostafa Mohamed.
For his part, the Bosnian coach of the Moroccan national team, Vahid Halilhodzic, said that he does not care about the history of previous confrontations between the two teams and called on all players to make the next match a playoff that has nothing to do with previous confrontations.
Halilhodzic told his players that they are three stops away from writing history and that overcoming the Egyptian barrier is the first of these steps, provided that they exhibit the same calm that accompanied their matches from the group stage until the victory over Malawi.
The line-up of the Moroccan team in the AFCON includes five players who witnessed the exit of the lions from the 2017 edition from the quarterfinals at the hands of Egypt — Roman Sais, Mounir Al-Mohammadi, Yassin Bounou, Youssef Al-Nassiri, and Faisal Fajr.
The team bid farewell in the 2017 AFCON quarter-final with a 0-1 loss against Egypt at the hands of Mahmoud Kahraba in the 88th minute.
Salah vs Hakimi
Egypt’s qualification to the quarter-finals of AFCON in Cameroon ignited the confrontation scheduled for Sunday against the Moroccan team.
This is not only because of the history of strong and exciting confrontations between the Pharaohs and the Atlas Lions, but also because it is a special confrontation between the most prominent Arab players in the European leagues, Liverpool star Mohamed Salah and Achraf Hakimi, the star of Paris Saint-Germain.
All eyes are now on this confrontation, especially as the two led their teams to reach this advanced stage of the tournament.
Just as Moroccan full-back Ashraf Hakimi scored the winning goal for his country against Malawi and led Morocco to the quarterfinals, Mohamed Salah followed the same path by scoring the decisive shootout in front of Cote d’Ivoire.
The special confrontation between Salah and Hakimi derives its importance from the fact that they are the most prominent Arab players in both England and France, in addition to their strong influence in their teams.
Hakimi raised his score with his country to seven goals along with six assists, during the 45 matches he played with the team. He previously scored his first decisive goals in the tournament against Gabon in the third round of the group stage to save his country from losing in the 84th minute with a direct free kick as well, after his colleague Nayef Akrad scored an own goal in the 81st minute, to end the match in a 2-2 draw. Morocco qualified for the top of Group C with 7 points from two victories and a draw.
Salah’s influence in the Egyptian national team did not differ from Hakimi, as Salah opened his goals in the tournament against Guinea Bissau, a precious winning goal for Egypt.
Mohamed Salah is considered the owner of unprecedented numbers for an Arab or African player in the English Premier League, as his journey witnessed many records, such as the title of top scorer in the English Premier League, which he obtained twice in a row, and he was able to achieve exceptional success in the English Premier League since his move to Anfield with a historic deal that made him the most expensive player in Liverpool’s history.
He also won many awards, most notably the award for the best player in England in 2018, and the Puskas award for the best goal in the 2018 season. His achievements extended to the African continent in which he grew up, and he won the African Confederation Award for the best player in Africa for the years 2017 and 2018, and the award for the best African player by the BBC for the year 2017.
Furthermore, he won the English Premier League’s Player of the Year in 2018, and the English Premier League Golden Boot award, the Premier League’s top scorer in 2018 and 2019. He was also chosen by Time magazine in 2019 among the 100 most influential people in the world.
Mohamed Salah, the 19th captain of the Egyptian national team, is looking forward to winning the AFCON with his country for the first time to add a new achievement, especially after he led the Egyptian team to participate in the 2018 World Cup.
The value of Moroccan Achraf Hakimi, according to Transfer Market, the site specialized in player numbers and statistics, amounted to €70m. Hakimi joined the French club Paris Saint-Germain in June of the year 2021, coming from Inter Milan, with a contract that extends until June 30, 2026. He also previously played for the German team, Borussia Dortmund, coming from Spanish Real Madrid.
Hakimi, in turn, is looking forward to winning the African Cup, especially since the Moroccan team has not achieved it since 1976.
Queiroz has never lost to Morocco
In his first confrontation, Queiroz defeated Morocco in the 2002 AFCON when he was coaching South Africa at the time, winning by three goals to one.
The second match was when he was leading Iran in the 2018 World Cup and beat Morocco with a clean goal.
Despite the Moroccan team’s superiority over the Egyptian team, the Atlas Lions have not managed to beat the Pharaohs in an AFCON game in quite some time.
The two teams met twice in the AFCON between 1986 and 2017, in all accounts, the Egyptians excelled.
The Egyptian and Moroccan teams met in the 1986 edition, when Egypt’s Taher Abu Zeid scored against famous Moroccan goalkeeper Zaki Badou, who was the gateway to the Pharaohs’ crossing to the final and winning the championship at the expense of Cameroon on penalties.
The Pharaohs then met the Atlas Lions once more in the quarterfinals of the 2017 AFCON, when Egypt defeated Morocco with a fatal goal scored by Mahmoud Abdel-Moneim (Kahraba), going on to win the semi-finals against Burkina Faso but losing in the finals to Cameroon.
In the 1980 edition, which was held in Nigeria, the two teams met in a match to determine the third and fourth places, and the Moroccan team won a double by Khaled Al-Abyad to finish third.
The Atlas Lions excel by a large margin in direct confrontations throughout history between the two countries, as the Moroccan team won 13 out of 26 matches that brought the two teams together, while Egypt won only three matches. A tie occurred in 11 confrontations. Morocco has scored a total of 30 goals against Egypt throughout history, while the Egyptians have only managed to score 14 goals.
As for the African championships, the two teams have faced each other on seven occasions, with Morocco winning three of them, Egypt winning two, with the remaining two confrontations ending in draw.
The Lions qualified for the quarterfinals after defeating Malawi 2-1 in the round of 16, while Egypt qualified for the quarter-finals after beating Côte d’Ivoire 5-4 on penalties.