Mohamed Salah scores to help Egypt reach 2019 Africa Cup of Nations last 16
Liverpool forward follows up Elmohamady's earlier strike against DR Congo as Egypt make it two wins from two in Afcon Group A
Mohamed Salah was off and running, and Egypt charged into the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations knockouts.
The hosts survived a scare or two in Cairo late on Wednesday to book an early passage from Group A.
Against the backdrop of a teammate Amr Warda being kicked out of the squad hours before kick off, Salah, the captain and superstar, delivered. First Ahmed Elmohamady prodded home midway through the first half, then Salah rose to his reputation moments before half time.
Two goals set up Egypt for a 2-0 victory against the Democratic Republic of Congo. It lifted the home side to two wins in their first two outings.
Egypt overcame the distraction of Amr Warda was banished from the squad earlier in the day over mounting sexual harassment allegations. The claims surfaced earlier this week on social media platforms. Multiple women posted screenshots and testimonies of Warda's alleged lewd comments.
"I think the team is strong and the squad is strong but we are not happy to lose a member of our family," said manager Javier Aguirre. "The team focused more on our match and played the 90 minutes in a serious manner. I don't think the Egyptian team will be affected by the absence of anyone."
Egypt, record seven-time African champions and favourites for another, underlined their pedigree.
Perhaps it could have been different. DR Congo twice struck the woodwork in the opening 45 minutes.
Captain Marcel Tisserand was first, when the match was goalless, then striker Jonathan Bolingi narrowly missed not long before Salah's intervention put the result beyond them.
By that stage, Egypt were a goal to the good. Elmohamady showed fast feet and a quick mind to flick up the ball in a crowded Congolese penalty area and swipe home his shot.
Salah's cross created the confusion. The Cairo International Stadium erupted.
By 43 minutes the noise grew even greater. Salah raced on to Mahmoud "Trezeguet" Hassan’s perfectly weighted through-ball and curled his shot inside Ley Matampi’s near post.
It was the Liverpool forward’s first goal of the tournament. It owed much to Trezeguet’s ingenuity.
It also increased Salah’s international tally to 40 goals. He moved two behind second-placed Hassan El Shazly in the Egypt all-time list.
Salah will not bother Hossam Hassan’s 69 during these next few weeks, but Egypt would content themselves with an eighth trophy and first in nine years. Last hosts in 2006, they finished runners-up two years ago.
"I want to congratulate our opponents, who played a good match, they played very well, created chances, I think in the second half they were better than us," Aguirre added.
"We scored two, we could have scored a couple more, we have six points."
Egypt had chances to swell the scoreline on Wednesday, mainly through Ahmed Kouka, a second-half substitute. Yet he flashed his shot wide.
It mattered not, although midfielder Mohamed Elneny was fortunate to escape a straight red for a needless, two-footed lunge.
With 13 minutes remaining, Egypt goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy leapt to his right to save superbly from Bolingi’s powerful header.
But the referee had already, somewhat inexplicably, called a foul. Still, El Shenawy was not to know.
Soon after, Yannick Bolasie curled a free kick beyond Egypt's keeper, but beyond their upright too. Cedric Bakambu flicked an effort over the bar.
Egypt held on, building on Friday's 1-0 win against Zimbabwe and yet to concede a goal.
Defence intact and Salah suddenly in form, Aguirre’s side can look forward to Sunday’s encounter with Uganda a little more freely. Then, a place in the last 16.
DR Congo, meanwhile, can prepare to head home.
"The feelings are mixed when you play such a match. Unfortunately we lost so the feeling is one of hurt, particularly for my players. They gave a lot and fought hard but didn't get the result," said DR Congo manager Florent Ibenge, whose side fell 2-0 to Uganda in their opening match.
"We've got one match left against Zimbabwe and we can hope for third place. We're going to fight until the end."
So, mission accomplished at the first time of asking. Egypt recovered from the controversy surrounding Warda’s expulsion, came together and carried themselves through to the knockout stages.
With it, an expectant nation courses forward, too.
Updated: June 27, 2019 10:01 AM