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Preview: North African rivals clash in AFCON quarterfinal matchup between Egypt and Morocco

Two rivals meet on Sunday in the early quarterfinal matchup at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations when Egypt and Morocco meet at the Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo in Yaoundé. Egypt’s recent form has led to few predicting the Pharaohs winning the competition, but a penalty kick shootout victory over Ivory Coast in the Round of 16 has supporters believing there is more to come from the team. Morocco overcame an early goal against Malawi in their first knockout stage match and proceeded to dominate in a 2-1 victory to remind observers of their status as contenders.

Egypt can take encouragement from the fact that they eliminated Morocco at this stage in the 2017 AFCON, where a late winner from Kahraba helped propel Egypt to a runner-up finish in Gabon. Current manager Carlos Queiroz expressed that he was proud of his team for taking down favorite Ivory Coast, praising the Round of 16 victory as an “outstanding team performance”. There are no Covid-19 related absences for the Egyptian team but Queiroz will have to do without goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy and likely midfielder Hamdi Fathi. El Shenawy had to be substituted due to injury during the match against Ivory Coast with penalty kick shootout hero Mohamed “Gabaski” Abou Gabal left to fill the shoes of the Al Ahly shot stopper.

Queiroz continues to attempt to adjust his tactics as the tournament proceeds and while Egypt are embracing a defensive strategy, the Portuguese manager is attempting to get his midfield further forward to support the attacking line. With the Egyptian Football Association expressing their support for the manager and declaring that he will lead the Pharaohs against Senegal in the team’s crucial 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying games, it will be interesting to see if Queiroz’s tactics are a bit more ambitious on Sunday.

Morocco continue to prove that they should be considered among the competition’s favorites, and are playing attractive football as compared to other fancied teams like Senegal. The team has never lost a competitive match with current manager Vahid Halilhodžić on the sidelines since the Bosnian joined as manager in August 2019, making undefeated runs through AFCON and 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying. Halilhodžić acknowledged that Sunday’s clash will be a tactical battle because of Egypt’s experience and ability to keep possession, making efficiency in the Moroccan attack essential.

Halilhodžić was accompanied at the pre-match press conference by playmaker Sofiane Boufal, the Angers player who has been among the best attackers in the competition. Boufal gave credit to Halilhodžić for pushing him to be more efficient in the final third by providing more goals and assists and the player who featured more as a substitute earlier in Halilhodžić’s reign is now an automatic starter. A couple of players will be missing due to Covid-19 but neither has made an appearance so far in Cameroon, giving the important contributors to the Atlas Lions a clean bill of health more or less. In addition to Boufal, physical striker Youssef En-Nesyri is beginning to find his form despite struggling for playing time at Spanish club Sevilla.

Key Matchup: Sofyan Amrabat (MAR) vs. Amr El Solia (EGY)

Amrabat is capable of filling all sorts of roles in the center of midfield, but under Halilhodžić the Fiorentina player’s defensive prowess is highlighted. As Egypt attempts to push forward, it will be crucial for Amrabat to neutralize the influence of Al Ahly midfielder Amr El Solia, who possesses the ability to strike from long distance or pick out one of Egypt’s forwards with his accurate passes. If Amrabat can keep the pressure on, Egypt will struggle to put star Mohamed Salah in scoring positions.

Prediction: Morocco 2-0 Egypt

Further Reading

Egypt v Morocco – Thriller Derby (CAF Online)
Match Facts – Egypt v Morocco (CAF Online)
Maroc : 2 absents contre l’Egypte (Afrik-Foot)

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