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Preview: Ivory Coast vs. Egypt

The premier matchup of the Round of 16 at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations will see African titans Ivory Coast and Egypt square off with plenty at stake on Wednesday. Ivory Coast is in scintillating form in Cameroon, capturing first place in a difficult Group E with a star-studded attack that is firing on all cylinders. Meanwhile, Egyptian supporters have little confidence in their team’s ability to go far and see themselves as underdogs despite having Africa’s most in-form player in Mohamed Salah.

Talent and firepower has never been an issue within the Ivorian side, but stretches of underwhelming play in 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying cost the Elephants a spot in the final round under manager Patrice Beaumelle. However, it has been a different story in Cameroon and the team now looks more than capable of lifting the trophy. Even with the team’s excellent performances so far, Beaumelle is claiming outsider status for his side and remarked that Egypt are dangerous because of the potential of the Pharaohs to be sleeping giants.

There are no cases of Covid-19 within the squad and no key injuries in the Ivorian squad and the Elephants will count on a lethal attack that features Nicolas Pépé, Wilfried Zaha, Max Gradel and 2021-22 UEFA Champions League group stage top scorer Sebastien Haller. A weak spot does appear to the be the Ivorian defense, particularly in the center where Eric Bailly and Simon Deli have shown signs of vulnerability. Whether those two start together or one of them is paired with promising young center back Odilon Kossounou, they will have to be sharp while full backs Serge Aurier and Ghislain Konan push forward.

Morale could not be lower in the Egyptian camp, meanwhile. The Pharaohs are the first North African team to capture an Africa Cup of Nations hosted in sub-Saharan Africa, winning in Ghana in 2008 and then two years later in Angola. However, an underperforming attack and a decisive defeat in the group stage to Nigeria means Egyptian media and supporters are not endorsing another African title in Cameroon. Despite these factors, Egypt remains very dangerous due to the presence of Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, who has yet to win an Africa Cup of Nations in his career.

In pre-match comments, Salah demanded that Egyptian supporters put aside loyalties to particular players on the team or the clubs they represent to support the Egyptian team. Manager Carlos Queiroz, under plenty of pressure from a demanding fanbase, will have one key player returning from injury with left back Ahmed El-Fatouh available for selection. The key player to keep an eye on other than Salah are Al Ahly central midfielder Amr El Solia, who offers the ability to find Salah or striker Mostafa Mohamed with his accurate passes and can also find the net with his long-range shooting.

Key Matchup: Max Gradel (CIV) vs. Omar Kamal (EGY)

Egypt and Al Ahly right back Akram Tawfik suffered a cruciate ligament injury in the opening match against Nigeria, and Egypt do not have much depth in the full back position. Future FC player Kamal is known for his ability going forward but lacks pace and is an average defender at best. If Egypt are to win on Wednesday than Kamal will have to make an impact against veteran playmaker Max Gradel as well as the frequent overlapping runs of Ivorian attack-minded left back Ghislain Konan.

Prediction: Ivory Coast 3-1 Egypt

Cote d’Ivoire v Egypt – An early final (CAF Online)
Head-To-Head: Ivory Coast vs Egypt (Goal)
Match Facts – Cote d’Ivoire v Egypt (CAF Online)
Sébastien Haller: A very special AFCON (CAF Online)

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