Cairo: Superstar Mohammad Salah gets a second chance to score his first goal at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations when hosts Egypt face the Democratic Republic of Congo in Group A on Wednesday.
The recent Champions League winner with Liverpool was unable to convert several chances against Zimbabwe last Friday as Egypt won 1-0 in the opening match of the tournament.
“Mo Salah was among those who missed chances, but I was satisfied with our performance,” admitted Mexican coach Javier Aguirre.
Victory over the Congolese, who performed poorly when losing 2-0 to Uganda, could clinch a last-16 place for the Egyptians with one match to spare.
Also in Group A, Uganda play Zimbabwe in the first match in Cairo, and Nigeria and Guinea clash in Group B in Alexandria.
After four days of small crowds, a capacity 75,000 crowd is expected in Cairo to cheer Egypt as they seek a third win in four Cup of Nations meetings with the DR Congo.
There will be contrasting pressures on the teams with the Pharaohs eyeing a second-round place and the Leopards fighting for survival after a horror first outing.
“We must learn to handle the pressure of being among the favourites in order to realise our goal of becoming African champions,” said Aguirre.
DR Congo came to Egypt as one of the most unpredictable qualifiers having finished third in 2015 only to make a timid quarter-final exit two years ago.
“We let our country down against Uganda,” confessed captain Youssouf Mulumbu. “It was a bitter lesson for us and we plan to correct the situation quickly.”
Having won a Cup of Nations match for the first time in 41 years, Uganda coach Sebastien Desabre has warned his Cranes against overconfidence when they confront Zimbabwe.
“It was wonderful to win after such a long time, but we must keep our feet on the ground and remain humble and focused,” warned the Frenchman.
“I was very impressed by Zimbabwe against Egypt and nothing less than a top-class performance from us will deliver three more points.”
Should Uganda and Egypt triumph, both will be guaranteed last-16 places, leaving Zimbabwe and DR Congo to try and fill one of four spots reserved for the best third-place finishers.
“Our brave performance against Egypt is history and only a victory over Uganda will bring us back into contention for automatic qualification,” said Zimbabwe coach Sunday Chidzambwa.
Neither team impressed in their Group B openers with Nigeria one-goal winners over debutants Burundi and the defensive weaknesses of Guinea exposed when held by Madagascar, another newcomer.
Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr blamed illness for a lacklustre showing and it took an exquisite back-heel pass from Ola Aina to set up substitute Odion Ighalo for a late 1-0 win.
“Some players started training only a few days before the match after becoming ill due to the change in climate from wet Nigeria to hot Egypt,” said Rohr.
“We are thrilled to be here after failing to qualify for the last two Cup of Nations and I expect a much better performance against a very good Guinea side.”
On Monday night, Ivory Coast began their campaign in the toughest group with a 1-0 win over South Africa.
The Ivorians edged the crunch game in Group D when Jonathan Kodjia finished neatly from a cross by Max Gradel in the second half.
The striker’s goal was enough, although Nicolas Pepe hit the crossbar with a free kick for Ivory Coast in the first half and was denied again near the end when another free kick was saved brilliantly by Ronwen Williams.
Group D has three former champions in Ivory Coast, South Africa and Morocco. Morocco beat Namibia 1-0 on Sunday.
In Monday’s second game, Angola scored a late equaliser to draw 1-1 with Tunisia in Group E.
Guinea v Nigeria, 6.30pm
Uganda v Zimbabwe, 9pm
Egypt v DR Congo, midnight