A first-half strike by Muhamad Trezeguet helped hosts Egypt beat Zimbabwe 1-0 to make a winning start to their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations campaign on Friday.
The Pharaohs, under the management of experienced Javier Aguirre, came out of the tunnel seeking their eighth African crown and their first since 2010 – when a 1-0 success against Ghana sealed their third-successive title.
They started out brightly as they created the better goal scoring opportunities in the opening exchanges.
Liverpool star Mohamed Salah was involved in the early exchanges as his in-swinging cross in the first minute forced Sibanda into making a last-ditch save. Egypt continued piling the pressure as a wonderful intricate passage of play between Salah and Mohsen set up El Said, whose shot was saved by Sibanda.
El Said got a second bite at the cherry 5 minutes later as he was teed up Trezeguet, but the Egyptian number 8 blazed his shot into the crowd. Egypt kept on probing but Sibanda was equal to all their goal efforts.
Against the round of play, Billiat was put through on goal with a quick free-kick which caught the Egypt defence sleeping but Elshenawy was quick off his line to deny the Kaizer Chiefs forward. Zimbabwe were left ruing their missed chance as they were punished by a beautiful goal by Trezeguet. Zimbabwe captain Musona was robbed in midfield as Trezeguet beat his man and curled his shot into the far corner to give the hosts the lead right before half time.
Egypt’s defensive resilience under Javier Aguirre was once again highlighted as they failed to concede a goal in the first half. This means that Egypt have now conceded just one first-half goal in their last 18 matches at home, including friendlies.
Zimbabwe came alive in the second half and had more possession of the ball but still lacked the cutting edge upfront as star man Billiat couldn’t find his feet in the game.
Salah had a couple opportunities to open his account in the tournament but Sibanda denied the Liverpool star on both occasions. Zimbabwe lost Sibanda, their best player on the day through injury as he was replaced Chipezeze. His replacement continued in a similar fashion as he parried a late Salah effort.
Not the best of performances from the host nation but they have become specialists at winning their opening AFCON matches as they have now won their last 6. Zimbabwe, on the other hand, will hold their heads up high and still believe that they have a good shot at qualifying to the next round despite losing their opening game.
Egypt currently lead Group A ahead DR Congo versus Uganda on Saturday.