Egypt will do battle with Uganda at the Cairo International Stadium on Sunday night in the final game of Group A at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Both nations, still unbeaten after two games, face off with first place on the line after the third round of fixtures.
The host nation have six points after defeating Zimbabwe and DR Congo 1-0 and 2-0 respectively and are strong favourites to continue their unblemished record against Sebastien Desabre’s troops, who have four points.
With two points separating both nations, Egypt need a point from the fixture to claim top spot in the group.
Victory over the Leopards on Wednesday secured Javier Aguirre’s side a place in the Round of 16, and puts them firmly on course for an eighth Nations Cup triumph, and a first since 2010.
The Pharaohs are one of five countries who are yet to concede a goal at the finals, so their watertight defence is something Uganda will have to contend with.
In attack, Aguirre’s team have hit the back of the net on three occasions, joint-second with four other sides including Sunday’s opponents, and only bettered by Mali’s five strikes.
Mohamed Salah and Mahmoud ‘Trezeguet’ Hassan account for two of the North Africans nation’s goals, and are The Pharoahs most obvious threats.
It is likely both feature against the Cranes, given Aguirre’s pre-match comments of not making a plethora of changes to the starting lineup owing to the importance of ending in first place.
“While I am concerned about the suspensions [Mohamed Elneny, Mahmoud Alaa, and Ali Ghazal all received bookings against Congo], which will force us to make some changes to the starting line-up against Uganda, we will be making just one or two changes,” the Mexican coach said.
Amr Warda is in contention to feature from the off following his reinstatement into the squad. The Atromitos Athens winger was expelled on Wednesday owing to ‘disciplinary reasons’ after allegations of sexual harassment by several women surfaced on social media, but the decision was reversed barely 48 hours later.
Following his recall to the side, the popular attacker is available for selection against Uganda, as well as the remainder of the competition.
One player who wouldn’t be involved on Sunday is Mahmoud Gennesh. The Zamalek goalkeeper ruptured his Achilles tendon on Friday and the injury has ruled him out of the rest of the finals.
Speaking on Saturday, Aguirre was wary of the threat Desabre’s team possess in the group’s deciding encounter.
“Uganda is a strong and well-organized team who play with a fighting spirit through the whole 90 minutes. I think it will be a stiff confrontation.” he said.
The East African nation have picked up four points after beating DR Congo 2-0 in their group opener, before playing out to an entertaining 1-1 draw against Zimbabwe on Wednesday.
Having failed to make it out of their group two years ago in Gabon, the Cranes are likely to be in the knockout stages of the biennial showpiece for the first time since 1978 when they finished as runners up.
A defeat by Egypt might not be fatal to their chances of progressing to the Round of 16, even if Zimbabwe (with one point) pick up a win against the DRC and somehow end runners-up behind the Pharaohs.
With four of the best third-placed teams guaranteed a spot in the first knockout round, four points ought to be enough to carry Desabre’s charges into the last 16, although a point in Sunday’s game guarantees their participation in the next round.
The Frenchman’s side, like Egypt, are one of the top scorers in tournament with three goals. While their rearguard has only been breached once.
Farouk Miya has been the Cranes’ standout player at the competition; registering two assists in their opening game against Florent Ibenge’s Congo and was the East African’s most impressive star against Sunday Chidzambwa’s outfit in mid-week.
The playmaker could be the one to unlock the so far unbreachable Pharaohs defence that’s yet to concede a goal at the finals.
Even though his side have qualification nearly sewn up, Desabre believes his side can upset the odds by defeating the hosts on Sunday.
“I know it will be a difficult game for us, but we are ready to face the challenge. We will play for the win to qualify as the group winners,” the Frenchman said at his pre-match press-conference.
“I am not worried about the Egypt match. There is a difference between the first two matches and tomorrow’s game. We got everything we need through watching Egypt’s last match against DR Congo and our players are motivated to win,” he concluded.
The Cranes will have to do without the services of Murushid Juuko, owing to the hamstring injury he picked up in their opening game against Zimbabwe.
Uganda haven’t had the rub of the green in their past encounters with Egypt, with the North African side claiming 10 wins in the pair’s last 11 meetings – including their last game in September 2017.
Senegal official Maguette Ndiaye will referee the game in what will be the 32-year-old’s first Nations Cup appearance.