Salah-less Egypt suffer shock AFCON loss to Ethiopia

Egypt sorely missed injured captain Mohamed Salah as they crumbled to a shock 2-0 loss to Ethiopia on Thursday in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers.

A strain ruled out the prolific goalscorer for Liverpool after he challenged his club last Sunday and played in a win over Guinea despite not being fully fit.

Egypt were short on several other injured first-choices but were still expected to get maximum points in Group D in neutral Malawi against opponents 108 places lower in the world rankings.

But Ethiopia’s quick forwards repeatedly troubled a sluggish Egyptian defense in the first half and goals from Dawa Hotessa and captain Shemeles Bekele gave them a two-goal advantage at half-time.

Egypt had more possession in the second half on a pitch that was poorly cut in places due to torrential pre-match rain.

Ethiopia were forced to play in Lilongwe because, like 16 other countries vying for qualification, they do not have a stadium of international standards.

Coach Ehab Galal was in charge of Egypt for just two games after Portugal’s Carlos Queiroz could not agree on the terms of a contract extension.

Galal, who left Cairo club Pyramids to take over for the Pharaohs, will now come under intense pressure as a disappointing year for Egypt continues.

They lost the last Nations Cup final to Senegal on penalties in February and a month later suffered a similar fate against the same side in a play-off to decide who would make it to the Nations Cup. World 2022 in Qatar.

Egypt needed 87 minutes to score the goal that beat Guinea in the first round of the 2023 Nations Cup qualifiers and the loss to Ethiopia left them bottom of the table.

The only consolation for Galal and his team is that the other teams in the section – Ethiopia, Malawi and Guinea – also won and lost, so each team has three points.

– Close to the winner of Keita –

Guinea left him late to beat Malawi 1-0 in Conakry with Salah’s Liverpool team-mate Naby Keita scoring in added time.

Nigeria ended a five-game winless streak by coming from behind to beat Sierra Leone 2-1 in a Group A match played behind closed doors in Abuja due to crowd trouble in a play-off World Cup against Ghana.

All the goals came before half-time with Jonathan Morsay giving the Leone Stars an early lead, Alex Iwobi equalizing and Victor Osimhen scoring what proved the match winner in the 41st minute.

Guinea-Bissau lead Nigeria on goal difference after beating Sao Tome and Principe 5-1 in the Moroccan city of Agadir with Belgian Zinho Gano scoring a brace in eight minutes.

The brilliance of South African captain and goalkeeper Ronwen Williams could not prevent Morocco, en route to Qatar, from winning a highly publicized Group K match 2-1 in Rabat.

It was the first match for both teams in a group reduced to three teams by Zimbabwe’s ban following government interference and Ayoub el Kaabi won it with a superb 87th-minute volley.

Fellow World Cup qualifiers Cameroon were also narrow winners, edging plucky minnows Burundi 1-0 in Tanzania thanks to a Karl Toko Ekambi goal.

Minnows Lesotho exceeded expectations by holding an Ivorian side stacked with European stars 0-0 in cold Soweto.

The Ivorians automatically qualify as 2023 hosts but compete in Group H for competitive match training.

That leaves rivals Comoros, Lesotho and Zambia battling for a single place in the final and Zambia’s Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets) are second on head-to-head records.

Mali scored twice in added time with 10 men to beat South Sudan 3-1 and take a three-point lead over Congo Brazzaville and Gambia in Group G.