Africa Cup of Nations 2023: Mohamed Salah scores late as Egypt avoid shock defeat

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Egypt captain Mohamed Salah has finished as a runner-up at the Africa Cup of Nations twice, at the 2017 and 2021 finals
Egypt captain Mohamed Salah has finished as a runner-up at the Africa Cup of Nations twice, at the 2017 and 2021 finals

Mohamed Salah’s injury-time penalty spared Egypt’s blushes against Mozambique in their Group B opener at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.

A regulation victory looked on the cards when Mostafa Mohamed put the Pharaohs ahead after just 89 seconds.

Quickfire second-half goals from Witi and Clesio gave the Mambas hope of recording a first-ever Afcon win.

But their dreams were dashed at the death when Domingos Macandza caught Mohamed, and Salah salvaged a draw.

The Video Assistant Referee had intervened to recommend that referee Dahane Beida go to the screen to review the challenge, and Salah kept his composure to net his spot-kick via the inside of the left-hand upright in the seventh minute of added time.

Despite taking their early lead, seven-time champions Egypt failed to show much in the way of fluid attacking play, with talisman Salah unable to exert any great influence on proceedings.

The Liverpool forward, 31, has talked of his desire to win a first Nations Cup, having twice been a losing finalist – including two years ago in Cameroon – but head coach Rui Vitoria will know his team must improve if Egypt are to stand any chance of that happening.

Perhaps Salah’s best involvement came in the build-up to the opening goal when his miskick inadvertently fell to Mohamed, who was more alert than the surrounding defenders to guide a low strike on the turn into the corner of the net.

Minutes later, Mohamed, who was Egypt’s most dangerous player in the first half, brought a smart save from Mozambique goalkeeper Ernan before his knockdown also allowed Trezeguet to strike the post.

Egypt’s fans, many of whom were displaying Palestinian flags, expected more goals.

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The Mambas, who were missing star forward Geny Catamo of Sporting Lisbon through suspension, also had their chances in the opening period as Witi dragged a left-footed drive just wide before forcing Pharaohs keeper Mohamed El Shenawy to tip over.

Mambas strike after break

The game came to life in the 55th minute when El Shenawy failed to keep out Witi’s excellent near-post header despite getting a strong hand to the ball.

Just three minutes later, Mozambican players and coaching staff on the touchline were celebrating wildly when substitute Clesio raced clear before sliding home a low composed finish to make it 2-1.

There was no doubting who the neutrals were supporting, as chants of ‘Mozambique’ rang around the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium and the North Africans were booed when in possession.

Mozambique, ranked 111th in the world, 78 places below Egypt, managed to limit their opponents to long-range strikes as the clock ticked down during seven minutes of added time.

One sliced volley from Salah looked likely to sum up his day until VAR played its first significant hand at the tournament, and the forward smashed home his spot kick via the inside of the post.

It means Mozambique, playing at their fourth Afcon finals, must wait until Friday’s fixture against Cape Verde (14:00 GMT) for their next chance to break their tournament duck.

Egypt’s next game is Group B’s heavyweight clash against Ghana on Thursday (20:00 GMT).

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