‘Entertaining’ will be the right word to summarize what we have witnessed in the 2021 AFCON so far. We have witnessed major upsets, with three prime title contenders in Algeria, Nigeria and Ghana being eliminated from the competition already.
We have seen the rise of underdogs, with the likes of Comoros, Malawi and Cape Verde making it to the knockouts. To top it all off, we have also seen some bizarre occurrences, with a game ending early twice and a team having to field an outfield player in goal.
It is now the time for things to get serious, as we are into the round of 16 after 36 thoroughly entertaining group stage fixtures. Ivory Coast will be up against Egypt in the seventh fixture of this round.
Unlike the above-mentioned lot, Ivory Coast have justified their ‘favourites’ tag as they finished in the first position of their group, having accumulated seven points from their three matches.
The Elephants have won this prestigious competition twice – back in 1992 and 2015. They have qualified for the quarter-finals in seven of the last eight instalments of AFCON and will be determined to make it at least to that stage this season as well.
Egypt, on the other hand, have done well to stabilize their campaign after what was a rather challenging start. With two wins from three matches, they finished in the second position of their group.
The Pharaohs have traditionally been the kings of this competition as they have lifted this trophy a record seven times. However, head coach Carlos Queiroz will know very well the importance of staying modest and focused, as memories of the shocking round of 16 defeat against South Africa in 2019 is fresh in every Egypt fan’s mind.
Let us have a look at the in-depth analysis of what to expect from this fixture:
IVORY COAST IN 2021 AFCON SO FAR THIS SEASON
Ivory Coast are among the eight remains to remain unbeaten in their group stage campaign. They started their 2021 AFCON journey with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Equatorial Guinea, courtesy of a Max Gradel goal.
The second game against Sierra Leone, however, did not go according to their plans. The Elephants scored early in this match as well, with Ajax striker Sebastien Haller getting his name on the scoresheet, but a Musa Noah Kamara equalizer restored parity in the game. Though Ivory Coast took the lead through Nicolas Pepe, a bizarre goalkeeping howler saw Alhaji Kamara scoring for Sierra Leone in the 93rd minute, thereby preventing Patrice Beaumelle’s team from registering their second consecutive triumph.
Having said that, Ivory Coast showed great character and commitment to bounce back with a comprehensive 3-1 victory against the reigning champions Algeria. Franck Kessie, Ibrahim Sangare and Nicolas Pepe were on target for the two-time champions.
PREDICTED LINEUP AND TACTICS AGAINST EGYPT
Patrice Beaumelle will have a fully fit roster to pick his starting XI from, with his first-choice goalkeeper Badra Ali Sangare also declared fit after recovering from an injury he sustained in the game against Sierra Leone.
The French tactician is expected to roll his team out in his preferred 4-3-3 formation, with Serge Aurier, Odilon Kossounou, Simon Deli and Ghislain Konan comprising the four-man backline.
AC Milan’s Franck Kessie, Fulham’s Jean Michael Seri and PSV’s Ibrahim Sangare are likely to be deployed at the middle of the park, forming a bridge between Ivory Coast’s defence and attack.
All of that being said, the Elephants’ biggest strength lies in their intimidating attacking trio which features Crystal Palace’s Wilfred Zaha, Ajax’s Sebastien Haller and Arsenal’s Nicolas Pepe.
Probable Playing XI (4-3-3): Badra Ali Sangare; Serge Aurier, Odilon Kossounou, Simon Deli, Ghislain Konan; Franck Kessie, Jean Michael Seri, Ibrahim Sangare; Wilfred Zaha, Sebastien Haller, Nicolas Pepe.
EGYPT IN THE 2021 AFCON SO FAR THIS SEASON
Unlike their opposition, Egypt did suffer a defeat in this competition, but they have done enough to make it to this round. They started their campaign with a 1-0 loss against Nigeria, but bounced back from that setback with consecutive triumphs.
In their second match, the Pharaohs handed Guinea-Bissau a 1-0 defeat where Mohamed Salah scored the winner in the 69th minute of the game. In their last Group D tie, a Mohamed Abdelmonem goal in the first half was enough to secure another 1-0 win over Sudan and book their place in the round of 16.
PREDICTED LINEUPS AND TACTICS AGAINST IVORY COAST
Carlos Queiroz will not be as fortunate as Beaumelle, as he will miss two of his key players for this crucial match. Left-back Ahmed Fattouh and right-back Akram Tawfik sustained injuries in the game against Nigeria and are out of contention for this game.
The Portuguese mastermind is expected to match Ivory Coast’s 4-3-3 formation. Omar Kamal, Ahmed Hegazi, Mahmoud Hamdy and Ayman Ashraf are expected to form Egypt’s backline, with Mohamed El Shenawy being their last line of defence.
Al Ahli duo Amr El Solia and Hamdy Fathy are expected to man the midfield, with the vastly experienced Arsenal player Mohamed Elneny giving them company. Like Ivory Coast, the Pharaohs also boast of a potent attacking trio which boasts of Galatasaray’s Mostafa Mohamed, VfB Stuttgart’s Omar Marmoush and the captain of the side, Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah.
Probable Playing XI (4-3-3): Mohamed El-Shenawy; Omar Kamal, Ahmed Hegazi, Mahmoud Hamdy, Ayman Ashraf; Hamdy Fathy, Amr El Solia, Mohamed Elneny; Mostafa Mohamed, Omar Marmoush, Mohamed Salah.
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