CAIRO (Reuters) – Mahmoud Trezeguet handed hosts Egypt a winning start to the Africa Cup of Nations with the only goal of Friday’s opening game against Zimbabwe in a high tempo start to the tournament.
His 41st-minute strike proved decisive as Egypt missed out on a myriad of chances to make a bigger impact but will be satisfied to have taken the first three point haul of the month-long event.
Trezeguet’s finish overshadowed a return to Cairo for Champions League winner Mohamed Salah, whose every touch was loudly cheered but who had a frustrating evening as he could not convert his chances.
A packed crowd of 70,000 – many of whom had queued from up to 12 hours before kick off to enter the stadium – ensured a heady atmosphere at the Cairo International Stadium.
Zimbabwe looked to feel the pressure as Egypt had ample opportunity to take an early lead.
Zimbabwe’s goalkeeper Edmore Sibanda had a busy start with two saves inside the opening three minutes — both times touching the ball clear of his goal from headed efforts.
Salah was involved in a slick passing move in the ninth minute that offered Abdallah El Said a chance to score the tournament’s opening goal but again Sibanda saved well.
El Said then blasted wide with a similar chance from close range just three minutes later.
Salah’s first effort came after 17 minutes as he cut in from the byline but had only a tight angle to work with and put it wide of the target.
Egypt had a scare as Zimbabwe took a quick free kick that caught the home defence napping but not goalkeeper Mohamed El Shennawi, who came out timely to smoother the opportunity.
Then Trezequet broke the deadlock.
Picking up the ball out wide, he collected it back inside the penalty area after a short pass, and then made a body check to shake off the defence and open room for himself to fire home a curling shot that gave Sibanda no chance.
Salah, who showed no signs of post-season fatigue after a long campaign with Liverpool, had Egypt’s best chances of the second half but continued to be thwarted as Zimbabwe finished stronger. Ovidy Kararu’s powerful shot was the closest they came to an equaliser, but it was saved by El Shennawi.
The Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda — the other two teams in Group A — will get their campaign underway on Saturday.
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Christian Radnedge)