We are title favorites, says Egypt coach ahead of Africa Cup opener

Egypt's Mohamed Salah during the warm up. (Reuters)
Updated 21 June 2019

We are title favorites, says Egypt coach ahead of Africa Cup opener

  • Egypt are playing at home, can count on passionate support

CAIRO: Africa Cup of Nations hosts Egypt are confident of defeating Zimbabwe Friday in the opening match of a tournament expanded to 24 teams and staged in mid-year for the first time.

Egypt lie 51 places higher on the world rankings ahead of the Group A clash, top the title betting at 5/1 with Zimbabwe 150/1, and have won three of the four previous Cup of Nations they hosted.

“We are the favorites to win the 2019 Africa Cup,” said 60-year-old coach Javier Aguirre, the first Mexican to guide a nation that has won the competition a record seven times.

“Egypt are playing at home, can count on passionate support and have Mohamed Salah, the best footballer in Africa.”

Salah has returned home after another stellar season with Liverpool, which he completed by scoring the first goal in a 2-0 Champions League final triumph over Tottenham Hotspur.

His 22 English Premier League goals last season gave him a share of the Golden Boot title with two fellow Africans, Senegalese Sadio Mane and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Gabon.

Aguirre says fears that his talisman may be jaded after a long season of Premier League and Champions League football are unfounded.

“Mohamed took a holiday after the Champions League final, did not play in our first warm-up match and only came on after half-time in the second,” he countered.

Egypt beat fellow qualifiers Tanzania and Guinea and what pleased Aguirre most was not the results, but the large number of scoring chances the Pharaohs created.

“We had about 20 chances to score against the Tanzanians and almost as many against the Guineans. That is very encouraging.”

Aguirre also dismissed the view that Egypt rely too heavily on Salah, saying: “We have selected 23 footballers who are totally committed to the cause of winning the Cup of Nations.

“It is impossible for one footballer to win a Cup of Nations on his own. Mohamed will receive tremendous support from his teammates.

“All the players are mentally and physically ready and we look forward to beginning our campaign with a victory over Zimbabwe.”

The countries have met only once in a Cup of Nations with Egypt winning 2-1 in Tunisia 15 years ago and both teams were eliminated after the first round.

Aguirre expects the Zimbabwe Warriors to be “a well organized team who will seek to score mainly through counterattacks and set pieces.

“We have studied videos of them and identified strengths and weaknesses. I do not believe they will take us by surprise.”

Zimbabwe coach and former captain Sunday Chidzambwa was keeping his thoughts to himself ahead of the tournament opener.

But captain and forward Knowledge Musona, who plays in Belgium, stressed that they must not become obsessed by Salah, despite the huge threat he poses.

“We must not just stop Salah, we must stop all the Egyptians. If we concentrate only on one, others will destroy us,” he warned.

“My boys must be prepared to contest every loose ball, defend and attack in numbers, and take our scoring chances. “Against Egypt in Cairo we are unlikely to get many scoring chances, so clinical finishing is essential.”

“We are not here to talk — we are here to play football. We are in Egypt to achieve success and make every Zimbabwean proud of us.

“While I would love to add to the three goals I scored in the qualifying competition, it does not matter who scores, as long as they are Zimbabwean.”

The Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda are the other teams in Group A and they meet Saturday at the same venue as the opening match.

Group winners and runners-up qualify for the knockout second round along with the best four of the six third-place finishers.


Free-scoring Salzburg pose serious threat to leaky Liverpool

Updated 11 min 48 sec ago

Free-scoring Salzburg pose serious threat to leaky Liverpool

  • Injury-hit Reds have consistently leaked goals despite streaking clear at the top of Premier League

LONDON: Liverpool travel to Salzburg on Tuesday needing to avoid defeat to the confident Austrian champions to guard against an embarrassing Champions League group stage exit for the holders.

Jurgen Klopp's men are used to getting through to the knockout stages the hard way. In each of the past two seasons they have needed home wins to secure a place in the last 16 before going on to make the final.

However, the specter of a free-scoring Salzburg, led by the Champions League's top scorer in Erlin Braut Haaland spells trouble for an injury-hit Liverpool backline that has consistently leaked goals this season despite streaking clear at the top of the Premier League.

The Reds' recorded a first clean sheet in 14 games in Saturday's 3-0 win at Bournemouth, but lost another center back as Dejan Lovren limped off in the first half.

Should the Croatian miss the trip to Austria, Joe Gomez will be Klopp's only fit partner for Virgil van Dijk in central defense.

Van Dijk narrowly missed out to Lionel Messi in the battle for the Ballon d'Or last week in recognition of the transformative effect he has had on Liverpool's fortunes over the past two years.

But even the towering Dutchman has been incapable of stopping the steady flow of goals against in recent months.

Injuries have meant there has been a constant rotation of Lovren, Gomez and Joel Matip alongside Van Dijk, while the attacking impetus offered by fullbacks Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold leaves space in behind to be exploited.

Goalkeeper Alisson Becker also missed the first two months of the season due to a calf injury to further unsettle the backline.

The Brazilian is now back, but another injury to Fabinho has robbed the back four of the best player to protect them in the holding midfield role.

"I forgot how it feels, to be honest," said Klopp on finally ending the long wait for a clean sheet at the weekend.

"It's great, we should have them more often. It was the most-used word in the dressing room by the boys — "clean sheet, clean sheet, clean sheet."

"Obviously everybody was desperate for that, now we have it so let's have it more often.

"The next game where a clean sheet would be useful is already around the corner, against Salzburg on Tuesday."

That is easier said than done as Liverpool know from their first meeting with Jesse Marsch's men in October.

The hosts seemed to be cruising to another Anfield win in the Champions League as they raced into a 3-0 lead, but Salzburg hit back to level at 3-3 before Mohamed Salah's winner ensured Liverpool edged a seven-goal thriller.

Salzburg have scored 87 goals in 24 games in all competitions this season, 28 of which have come from Norwegian wonderkid Haaland in just 21 appearances.

The 19-year-old started on the bench when the sides met at Anfield due to injury, but came on to inspire the visitors' revival in the second half and scored one of his eight Champions League goals.

"He's not the only threat from Salzburg but he's a proper one," said Klopp of the danger posed by Haaland ahead of the sides' first clash.

Salzburg need to win to make the last 16 on their first appearance in the group stage in 25 years.

A point would be enough for Liverpool to progress, but they need to win to secure top spot in Group E ahead of Napoli.

Given Liverpool's paucity of clean sheets and Salzburg's thirst for goals, attack would appear to be the best form of defencse for the European champions.