Mohamed Salah saved Egypt from an embarrassing defeat in their opening Africa Cup of Nations game on Sunday as he converted a penalty seven minutes into injury time to snatch a 2-2 draw with Mozambique. The penalty was awarded following a VAR check by the referee for a foul on Mostafa Mohamed in the area at the Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium in Abidjan, and Salah’s strike denied Mozambique a historic first ever AFCON win. “It was a very, very difficult game. I was sad seeing my players devastated at the end because we deserved the win,” said the Mozambique coach, Chiquinho Conde.
Mohamed had given record seven-time African champions Egypt the ideal start when he scored inside two minutes of the Group B encounter, but the sapping heat and humidity then seemed to get the better of the Pharaohs.
Mozambique, who had not won a match in 12 previous attempts in four past appearances at the Cup of Nations, equalised through Witiness Quembo in the 55th minute.
The game was completely turned on its head as Mozambique scored again three minutes later when Clesio Bauque, on as a half-time substitute, burst through to make it 2-1.
Salah saved Egypt, but it was not a convincing start to their campaign in Ivory Coast where they are attempting to win a record-extending eighth AFCON crown and a first since 2010, before the Liverpool superstar had made his international debut.
“I want to win every match I play and when we don’t I am sad, but there are no easy games,” said Egypt coach Rui Vitoria.
“We were not the best team before the draw was made and we are not the worst now.”
Their next match here against Ghana on Thursday could still make or break their campaign before a final group outing against Cape Verde.
Egypt had beaten Mozambique on the way to winning the title in 1986 and in 2010, and also won a 1998 clash between the sides.
The Pharaohs, runners-up to Senegal two years ago, scored here from their first chance, as Nantes striker Mohamed controlled, swivelled and fired home inside the box after Salah had failed to properly connect with a Mohamed Hamdy cross.
Mahmoud Trezeguet hit a shot off the outside of the post in the 25th minute as Egypt looked to turn the screw, but the conditions appeared to start getting the better of them as the interval approached.
Mozambique had their moments late in the first half, and Egyptian goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy reacted well to stop Hamdy scoring an own goal at one point.
Conde, the coach of Mozambique, changed to a three-man central defence for the restart with a double substitution that included bringing on former Benfica winger Clesio.
The equaliser arrived when Quembo, known simply as ‘Witi’, rose unchallenged at the near post to head in a cross from the right by Domingos Macandza, with El Shenawy only able to help the ball on its way.
Clesio then stormed through to make it 2-1 and looked set to become the man who would give his country their debut victory at the tournament.
The Mauritanian referee thwarted them as he ruled that Macandza had fouled Mohamed in the area at the death, giving Salah the opportunity to score from the spot.
However, Mozambique midfielder Guima, named man of the match, insisted his team will take plenty of belief from their display.
“We are not thinking small, we are thinking big, and like we showed today, we are ready to fight against everyone and you can count on us,” he said.
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