The opening match of the Africa Cup of Nations sees the tournament hosts Egypt getting the competition underway when they take on Zimbabwe in an intriguing starter to what should be an interesting month of action.
It might well be that three teams qualify from this group but we won’t know that until much later in the competition and neither of these teams will want to take the chance at this stage so this could be a big match for the pair of them.
The hosts will be desperate to make up for a dismal display at the World Cup last year, with their talisman Mo Salah in particular having a point to prove after injury cost him the chance to shine on the world stage in Russia 12 months ago. He might be called upon more than he would like here too with Egypt just starting to leak more goals than they would like overall.
Ultimately I would imagine in what is usually a tight and fairly low scoring tournament, the success or otherwise of Egypt will be determined by how well their rearguard performs. Taking that into account, it is in their best interests to put in a good defensive display here to give them some confidence for the remainder of the competition.
It isn’t a term I like when a team has fought so hard to qualify for a tournament of this stature, but there is a case to be made for this being a free shot for Zimbabwe with them having nothing to lose in this game. They will face much lesser tests from DR Congo and Uganda later in the group so in many ways anything they do claim from this match has to be seen as something of a bonus.
One thing which will give them a chance in this contest is the fact they have goals in their side. They bagged nine goals in qualifying which was a fine effort and a couple here would have them very competitive indeed. They have a couple of players in their squad for whom this is an important tournament with some big clubs coveting their services so it will be interesting to see how they go.
I’m not a massive lover of backing goals in this tournament and even less so in the opening match of a competition but I do think we’ll see a few here just based on the style the two teams adopt. Zimbabwe are a very attacking side at the best of times and with the pressure on their opponents they should play with a freedom that can see them create chances.
Egypt have started letting in a lot of goals since the World Cup last summer so they are probably going to have to score a fair few themselves over the course of the campaign. Mo Salah has a spotlight to shine on but Egypt have others who offer danger. I don’t think over 2.5 goals will be a regular thing for me this month but it is here.
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