It ended, as it had for a long time seemed that it would, with penalties. Eric Bailly, who had had an excellent game, had his dinked effort pushed against the bar by Egypt’s substitute keeper Mohamed Abou Gabal, and that was enough for Egypt to extend their unbeaten run against Ivory Coast in Africa Cups of Nations to six games and progress to the last eight. And it was enough for Carlos Queiroz to claim another triumph by suffocation.
Queiroz, unbending, unyielding, remains the same as he always has been. His hair may slowly be retreating from his crown with each passing year but the hands-on-hip prowl around his technical area means the same as it ever did. So too does the football. Queiroz has spent the tournament despairing of fans who doubt his cautious approach and demand Egypt “kick the ball forward, kick the ball forward”, insisting he was content to wait for “one small mistake, one rebound”.
Against this Ivorian defense, it was less likely to be one small mistake than several big ones. The pitch in Douala is probably even more disappointing than the media facilities, which perhaps offers some excuse, but again and again passes were misplaced. As Queiroz had hinted, Egypt didn’t so much try to create anything as wait for Ivory Coast to present them with the ball but, as in the group stage, a vaunted forward line squandered the opportunities. Omar Marmoush pinged a 15th-minute shot off the bar but, that aside, Egypt’s threat was largely theoretical.
The Ivory Coast coach, Patrice Beaumelle, has twice won the Cup of Nations as assistant to Hervé Renard and apes Renard’s famous lucky white shirt. The rugged Mills and Boon look, though, is rather undermined by his decision to pair the shirt with a pair of Jerry Seinfeld trainers.
Oddly what gave Ivory Coast a chance was the loss of Franck Kessié to injury after half an hour. Although that clearly weakened the Ivorians’ midfield, by encouraging Egypt to attack a little more, it did create space for them to counter into, as they had so successfully against Algeria. The result was that, as the tempo rose in the second half, the game seemed to contest the terrible finishing of Egypt and the terrible crossing of the Ivory Coast.
But Queiroz soon put a stop to that. Egypt became increasingly conservative and wasted time at every opportunity. It was all very familiar; Egypt too have always been masters of that if they feel the game might be slipping form them, as Ivory Coast found in Cairo in 2006 in the Cup of Nations final.
Queiroz is a master of this. He preaches control and, while a shootout clearly offers no guarantees, it was better than the alternative of taking Ivory Coast on in an open game. And when you have Mohamed Salah taking your final penalty, that does tip things in your favour. Morocco will be harder to stifle on Sunday, but Queiroz will not change: Egypt are in the last eight having only scored two goals.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism