By Alarico Rossi – @AlaricoRossi
Yesterday we previewed the quarter-final games of Burkina Faso v Tunisia & Senegal v Cameroon. Have a read here.
Today we are previewing the next two quarter-finals; Egypt v Morocco & Congo DR v Ghana.
EGYPT vs MOROCCO
This match could be a very exciting one due to three factors: the coaches’ experience, the quality of the players and… the pitch. Port-Gentil’s stadium is very beautiful one but the pitch is anything but and it really seems to have had an effect on the quality of football being played and the performances of teams. Egypt have played in Port-Gentil for all three of their matches in the group stage and so they have an advantage over Morocco in having some practice already on the poor surface. Herve Renard, Morocco’s coach, and Hector Cuper, Egypt’s coach, have a lot of experience in international football and so the game is likely to be a very closely-fought & tactical affair.
Cuper took on board the criticism he received about Egypt’s defensive organisation and turned it around in a solid victory against Ghana. In their final group game, there were two main strengths shown by Egypt: a solid defence and a quality counter-attack. Their counter-attacking ability can be seen in the video below:
The Egyptian star Mohamed Salah has a lot of pace over a few yards but over longer distances his pace is not so devastating:
So, bad pitches and strong marking in one-on-one situations means only the quality of the player can make the difference, and so Salah has a lot of responsibility to produce some key individual moments of brilliance in order for Egypt to win the game. Against Uganda, in a situation similar to a knock-out stage game, his assist to El Said won the game for Egypt, meaning they could go into the final game against Ghana with much less pressure to win. Another key component to their success is their expert goalkeeper, El Hadary, who is a leading figure in their defence.
Morocco are one of the beautiful surprises of this competition. After their disappointing previous AFCON experience, Egypt have had plenty of distance from other North Africa teams in recent years although Renard has now built a very solid team, operating with a 3-man defence. Around Bouhaddouz in attack the other two attacking players are picked based on the opposition being faced; for example against Congo DR, El Kaddouri played behind Bouhaddouz and Carcela, while in their other two matches, Fajr and one of El Kaddouri/En Nesyri played behind Bouhaddouz as a lone centre-forward. This second shape is very interesting in their defensive phase, as Morocco operate more of a high press with their two attacking midfielders putting a lot of pressure on the opposition fullbacks:
On the wings in midfield, Morocco have two differing types of player: on the left side Mendyl is more similar to a full back, but on the right side Boussoufa is much more of an offensive player. Morocco are a very rigid team in possession, with very little free roaming from any of the players. In addition, due to playing with three physically strong centre backs and a big striker, Morocco are one of the most dangerous teams in set play situations. Due to the height o Bouhaddouz, Morocco often look to play long balls up to him, as shown in the clip below:
So the big question about this game is: which of the two expert coaches will come out on top? How will the the 4-2-3-1 of Egypt fare against the 3-4-2-1 of Morocco, and vice versa? This will be a very interesting clash.
DR CONGO vs GHANA
The two biggest surprises of the tournament are up against each other: the excelling DR Congo and the underwhelming Ghana. DR Congo have been the most impressive team in the competition so far in terms of power and solid organisation. For Ghana to get anything out of the game, they’ll need to impose themselves both in power and technique.
In order to understand how DR Congo should manage the game, you have to watch the last 20 minutes against Morocco in the first match of the group stage. In the first half, Morocco deserved to go 1-0 up after the way they were playing, although after an error from Morocco’s goalkeeper, Kabananga tapped-in to give DR Congo the lead. After this: nothing. Morocco couldn’t get close to the penalty box, much due to the persistent fouling of Moroccan players:
DR Congo controlled their lead like a club fighting relegation. The strength of their players, the determination, the patriotism: no other club in the competition are showing these qualities more so than DR Congo at the moment. In the second match, DR Congo were trailing 2-1 against Ivory Coast after being in the lead, but a top class header from Kabananga salvaged a point for them.
Committed defending & clinical counter-attacks (shown in the video below) and then managing the game once taking the lead are the key ingredients that are making them very strong forces in this competition.
Ghana play with a very tidy 4-4-2, where Asamoah Gyan and Jordan Ayew provide Ghana with a lot of movement upfront. They are two forwards that know where the goal is better than anyone else in the competition, and they’ve both been crucial in helping Ghana get past the group stage. Despite the loss against Egypt, where Cuper’s men were victorious thanks to their stellar defensive job, Ghana seem to be the most organised team in the African Cup of Nations. They can sometimes drop off too much against opposition wingers however, as shown by this headed chance for Mali:
The feeling is that the team needs another top class player in midfield, as they are lacking a player with any significant dribbling ability. They’re strong at recovering the ball and building up attacks, but if the opposition sits deep in numbers, Ghana are solely reliant on Atsu as their attacking outlet. Against Egypt, Ghana didn’t come close to finding the back of the net, other than hitting the post once in the first half. If DR Congo can continue their strong defensive displays, they are more than capable of silencing the Ghana attack. The first half will be key: DR Congo need to stop Ghana from unlocking their defence, and Kabananga and co. will need to be clinical in finding that first goal. If the game goes to the second half, DR Congo will need to push forward to find that winner, which will leave space in defence for Ghana, and Atsu in particular, to exploit. However against Mali (as shown by the video) Ghana suffered greatly in terms of defending crosses, which would suit DR Congo a lot, so DR Congo have every right to be confident going into this fixture.
Similarly to yesterdays encounters, both games are relatively close encounters, although I think Ghana has the best chance for going through due to the quality of players in comparison to Congo. The game to watch however if Egypt-Morocco, which is bound to be a highly tactical fixture.