Mohamed Salah makes the difference in Egypt’s fightback victory over Morocco


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A solid defence plus Mohamed Salah equals progress. It might not be particularly edifying or good to watch but it does seem to work. This was a dismal game, two hours of spoiling with a dusting of football but, in the football that was played, Salah was decisive. He scored the equaliser and set up the winner, so Egypt will meet Cameroon in Thursday’s semi-final, a meeting of the two most successful sides in Cup of Nation’s history.Egypt had ground their way to this stage, scoring only twice in four games. That’s the way it has always been for Carlos Queiroz and for all the success it has brought him, his cautious strategy can threaten to come unstuck if his side concedes early. Here they were behind inside six minutes, and it would have been earlier but for a weirdly extended VAR check. Ayman Ashraf clearly hacked down Achraf Hakimi and Soufiane Boufal caressed home the penalty.That forced Egypt out and, in the brief outbreaks of football between the whinging, the squabbling and the feigning of injury, there were moments when they threatened to look quite enterprising. But only moments, because this was a game that was rarely allowed to get going. It was a match in which the respective benches maintained a state of constant tension and at least as much energy was expended shouting at the fourth official as in trying to direct affairs on the pitch.Mohamed Salah slots the ball past Yassine Bounou to equalise for Egypt. Photograph: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty ImagesThe second half began with a brief football match. Egypt stopped moaning and started playing and the effect was immediate. Salah, having been peripheral, suddenly became a central figure, running at Morocco.He created a chance that Trézéguet, a half-time substitute for the injured Ahmed Hegazi, volleyed just wide. His involvement helped force a corner and, after Mostafa Mohamed’s header was saved, Salah was there to level with a smart sidefoot. And that, for the football, was that, other than a stunning Mohamed Abou Gabal save from a late Nayef Aguerd header.On the basis of that first 10 minutes of the second half, it was hard not to conclude that Egypt might have been better off just playing. Not everything should have to be attritional, but Egypt seem to want to break the rhythm of the game however and whenever they can. Abou Gabal’s protracted departure with a groin injury was dragged out longer than Glenn Close’s demise in Fatal Attraction.The Fiver: sign up and get our daily football email.There is something depressing about seeing two such talented football teams with so little interest in playing football. It was no great surprise when a 16-man melee broke out with quarter of an hour to go with Hakimi and Mohamed the protagonists. Even then the allure of gravity proved too much for some to ignore, Munir El Haddadi flinging himself to the ground having felt a restraining hand on his chest apparently unaware that it came from the Senegalese referee Maguette N’Diaye.But ultimately, it was the ability of Salah that won out. He broke down the right and, having taken out three defenders, crossed low for Trézéguet to knock in the winner.


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