Egypt has the upper hand after the first leg of their World Cup qualifying play-off against Senegal ended in a 1-0 victory for the Pharaohs, giving Mohamed Salah’s team a slim lead over Sadio Mane’s side heading into the second leg.
The match on Friday night was the first of two legs between the two teams, with the winner earning a spot in the 2022 Qatar World Cup later this year.
Salah and Mane were the main attractions, but there was a slew of Premier League talent on display as well. For the hosts, Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny was in the middle of the pitch, while Chelsea’s Edouard Mendy was in goal for Senegal.
Salah’s Egypt and Mane’s Senegal met for the second time in less than two months, as Salah’s Egypt sought vengeance for their Africa Cup of Nations final defeat at the hands of Mane’s Senegal.
That match in early February ended goalless after 120 minutes, with The Lions of Teranga winning the penalty shootout.
While Reds fans would have been content to watch and hope that both players returned fully fit, the pair put everything on the line in order to improve their respective countries’ chances of qualifying for the World Cup.
In stark contrast to the previous meeting, the deadlock was broken in just four minutes this time.
While Salah was instrumental in Egypt’s first goal, it cannot be attributed to him after his shot cannoned off the crossbar and back onto the leg of the unwitting Saliou Ciss, who could do little to prevent the ball from bouncing off him and over the goal line. Mane was largely absent during the opening exchanges, contributing little to his team’s efforts.
Mane didn’t have his first real sight of goal until the 36th minute when he fired high and wide of Mohamed El Shenawy’s goal. Due to sustained Senegal pressure, Egypt ended up being the side desperate to hear the referee’s half-time whistle after a scintillating start.
The second half started similarly, and by the time the hour had passed, Salah was struggling to make an impact, with the visitors camped inside the hosts’ half. Despite having the upper hand in possession, Senegal was unable to convert their pressure into points.
Egypt clung to their lead with tenacity, with Elneny delivering a trademark performance full of energy and tireless running to neutralize the opposition’s threat. The tie is now perfectly posed for the return leg next week.
In other news, Ghana and Nigeria met in Kumasi for the first leg of their own World Cup qualifying match, a match that pitted two of Africa’s most powerful footballing nations against each other. The game was tense and ended in a 0-0 draw.