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Egypt have been a little underwhelming so far, and Morocco’s attacking cohesion could bring them victory.
Back Morocco to win (+140)
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Egypt are through to the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations but they certainly have not lit up the tournament so far. They began their stay in Cameroon with a 1-0 defeat by Nigeria in their opening game, before back-to-back 1-0 victories over Guinea-Bissau and Sudan booked their place in the knockout phase. Egypt did enough to win both of those matches, but no one who watched either encounter would have left having been thrilled by their performance.
That is broadly in keeping with how Egypt have gone about things in recent years. Their run to the final of the 2017 edition of this competition was built on a solid backline which only let in one goal before the final, a 2-1 loss to Cameroon. The following year the Pharaohs exited the World Cup in Russia in the group phase after scoring just two goals, one of which was a penalty in a 3-1 loss to the hosts.
The last Cup of Nations in 2019 was bitterly disappointing for Egypt, who had the advantage of playing on home soil. They negotiated the group stage with a minimum of fuss but suffered a shock 1-0 defeat by South Africa in the last 16. They could easily have exited the competition at the same stage this time around, but Eric Bailly’s miss in the penalty shoot-out proved decisive as Egypt squeezed past Ivory Coast on Wednesday.
This is a team which often leaves viewers wanting more. In Mohamed Salah Egypt have the best African footballer in the world, but their strategy of setting up in a solid shape and hoping the Liverpool forward works his magic in the final third is somewhat unsatisfying. Egypt are averaging only the eighth-highest possession and the ninth-most shots on target per match. That illustrates a lack of adventure which predates the tenure of the current manager, Carlos Queiroz, whose Iran side took a similarly defense-first approach between 2011 and 2019.
Morocco arrived in Cameroon as only the eighth-favorites to lift the trophy, and our pre-tournament guide picked them out as excellent value at +1400. After all, this is a side that went unbeaten in qualifying and only conceded one goal on the road to Cameroon. Those odds have since shrunk to +400 on the back of some impressive displays which have marked Morocco out as genuine contenders to go all the way at this Cup of Nations.
Only Cameroon and Senegal scored more goals in the group stage than Morocco, who found the net five times against Ghana (a 1-0 win), Comoros (a 2-0 victory) and Gabon (a 2-2 draw). Morocco’s attacking quality was on display once more in the round of 16, as they overcame the concession of an early goal to beat Malawi 2-1.
Morocco are averaging a tournament-high 1.69 expected goals per game, which shows they are having no trouble creating chances. They have shared the goals around, with five different scorers, and have the craft and guile in attack to break down deep defenses – a quality which several other teams in the competition lack. And while Salah might be Africa’s leading light, Achraf Hakimi is now firmly established as another of the continent’s top talents.
Sunday’s meeting between these two north African sides could be quite the spectacle. The game itself looks set be a battle between the irresistible force of Morocco and the immovable object of Egypt. The latter will be happy to cede possession and attempt to nick a goal on the counter-attack. Morocco are likelier to take the initiative in a bid to prise open Egypt’s resolute defensive unit.
Vahid Halilhodzic, the Morocco manager, will stick with his favored 4-4-2 diamond formation, which will give his team numerical superiority in the center of the pitch and allow to control the ball easily. Sofyan Amrabat’s ability to break up play will be important if Morocco are to nip Egypt’s counter-attacks in the bud; needless to say, they will also have to pay close attention to Salah throughout.
Egypt are adept at grinding out victories and it would not be a huge surprise if they did so again this weekend. But Morocco have played much better soccer so far, and their attacking cohesion and neat passing patterns will give the Pharaohs plenty to think about. There is also a steeliness to this team that allows them to respond to setbacks, as they demonstrated after falling behind to a wonder goal against Malawi last time out. Put your money on Morocco in this one.
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|Egypt vs Morocco Information|
|Teams||Egypt vs Morocco|
|Location||Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo, Yaounde, Cameroon|
|Time||Sunday, 30 January 2022, 11.00 AM EST|
|How to watch||beIN SPORTS|
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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