Mon 17 Jun by Mark Gleeson
Friday’s start of the Africa Cup of Nations will give an early indication of the ability of hosts Egypt to extend their dominance of the continental championship.
The Pharaohs kick off the tournament at the capital’s iconic Cairo International Stadium against Zimbabwe, whose three previous appearances at the finals makes them rookies in comparison to the long and distinguished history of Africa’s top football competition. With Mohamed Salah fresh from Champions League success at the start of the month, Egypt will have high hopes of winning the tournament for the eighth time, but their dependence on the Liverpool ace could prove their downfall. Salah took time out for a holiday after the victory over Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid and only joined up with the Egypt squad last week. But there must be questions about his mental and physical freshness after a long and gruelling season. Egypt have been unhealthily reliant on Salah over the years. He was the catalyst for them reaching the final of the last Cup of Nations finals and then qualifying for the 2018 World Cup finals. His injury ahead of last June’s tournament in Russia was a massive blow and Egypt were among the first countries to be eliminated in the first round. That is not to say there is no other talent in the Egyptian side, but Salah has been such a talisman of late that there is a real danger of dependence. Zimbabwe pose a dangerous threat. They are a side bursting with talent - many of them from clubs in the Premier Soccer League - and have the potential to prove a real surprise package at these finals. That was also the case two years ago but, after showing early promise, they were undone by inexperience and poor tactics. Two years on they are wiser and more polished, although they could be even better with a more wily coach in charge. There will be many countries not at all keen to take them on and TAB soccer punters will be wise to include the Zimbabwe win option in their selections.
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