Bruised Leopards Stand between Pharaohs and 2ndRound

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Demola Ojo

AFCON 2019 hosts, the Pharaohs of Egypt, will need to get past bruised opponents DR Congo to book an early ticket to the second round of the competition.

Despite sky-high optimism and enormous support, the Egyptian team only managed to edge past Zimbabwe 1-0 in the opening match in front of a vociferous crowd at the Cairo International Stadium.

Superstar attacker Mohammed Salah failed to make an impact against Zimbabwe but the Champions League winner with Liverpool will be itching to deliver a noteworthy performance.

Salah may play in a more advanced role against DR Congo, after he was moved from the right-hand side into the middle during the second half against Zimbabwe to little effect, but coach Javier Aguirre may prolong that experiment today.

“We considered using him as a striker against Zimbabwe from the game’s start, but Salah was not in top form physically due to his long season with Liverpool, so he started in his regular post,” assistant coach Tito Garcia revealed.

“Salah, with his great capacities, is capable of playing in any position and performing well.”

However, the DRC are no pushovers, even though they were victims of the one true shock so far in the competition, after being convincingly beaten 2-0 by Uganda in their opening game.

Captain Youssouf Mulumbu apologised to supporters for the “humiliating” defeat to a team ranked 80th in the world and previously without a win in the tournament since 1978.

And head coach Florent Ibenge concedes his side now have a mountain to climb if they are to advance, as they aim to avoid back-to-back group-stage losses for the first time since the 2004 edition.

“We had a bad game and deserved to lose against Uganda. Now we have to do it the hard way,” Ibenge said.

“It’s going to be a very difficult game for us, but we will do our best. We will play to have the best result despite the fact Egypt are playing at home. We will not adopt a defensive method, because we want to qualify.”

If the Leopards are to stand any chance, star striker Cedric Bakambu will have to fire on all cylinders. Bakambu boasted a good goal return during his time with Bursaspor and Villarreal in European football. Now scoring regularly in the Chinese Super League with Beijing Guoan, the France-born striker will be keen to get off the mark today after disappointing against Uganda.