By Sedara Philip
Egypt secured passage into the semi-finals of the TotalEnergies CAF U-23 Africa Cup of Nations, Morocco 2023, after a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Gabon in a match played at the Ibn-Batouta Stadium in Tangier on Saturday night.
Two late goals in a nervy finish by the defending champions saw them through to the last four, courtesy of goals by Mahmoud Hassan and Osama Abdelhady, setting up a mouth-watering semi-final clash against Group A runners-up, Guinea.
Needing just a draw to advance further, Egypt cautiously approached the match against a spirited Gabon side, who had their pride to play for after losing their matches against Mali and Niger.
Abdelhady had a golden opportunity to find the lead as early as the 6th minute after doing well to beat his marker from a long ball from the back, finding himself one-on-one with the keeper but sailing his effort over the bar.
The striker was back in the picture minutes later, applying pressure to the keeper whose attempted clearance came off the striker but couldn’t make its way into the back of the net.
Gabon eventually found their rhythm and looked more comfortable on the ball as the game progressed.
Edlin Matouti, who was key in Gabon’s attacks, was unlucky not to connect with a well-taken cross by Jeremie Moussango after his cross was flicked away from the oncoming Matouti in the 30th minute.
The speedy forward remained a nuisance and almost broke the deadlock just a minute later after skinning Hossam Abdelsalam to unleash a left-footed strike that was saved by the keeper.
Coming into the second half, Egypt came out as a much more determined side as they pressed forward for the opener but were met by a highly resolute Gabonese defense that put up a good fight.
The lead was almost found by the North Africans just after the hour mark after their skipper and playmaker, Ibrahim Mohamed, showed class in an attempted flick over the keeper but was unlucky to see his effort saved.
The skipper was instrumental in another move in the 73rd minute after his defense-splitting pass made its way to Abdelhady, who fired straight into the keeper.
Egypt finally broke the deadlock in the 82nd minute after a cleverly taken corner by substitute Moustafa Sayed was perfectly teed up for Mahmoud Hassan, who fired home from the edge of the box to give his side the much-needed lead.
With minutes left to play, Abdelhady put the cherry on top for Egypt through a well-taken spot-kick after the troublesome Sayed was fouled in the box.
The victory meant the defending champions march into the semi-finals without conceding a goal in their group matches.