Cairo: Egypt forward Mohammad Salah scored his first goal of this year’s Africa Cup of Nations to help the hosts to a 2-0 win over Democratic Republic of Congo which guaranteed them a place in the round of 16.
Ahmad Al Mohamady broke the deadlock in the 25th minute, turning the ball in following a corner, before Salah netted a clinically taken goal two minutes before half-time, sparking delirious celebrations at the Cairo International Stadium.
The result was harsh on the Congolese, who twice hit the crossbar in the first half and spent most of the second on the attack in the Egyptian half.
Egypt, with six points from two games, are guaranteed a top-two finish in Group A while Congo, who have no points, must beat Zimbabwe in their final match to have any chance of going through as one of the best third-placed teams.
“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,” said Egypt coach Javier Aguirre.
“We scored two, we could have scored a couple more, we have six points.”
Democratic Republic of Congo coach Florent Ibenge added: “Unfortunately, we didn’t score but we hit the bar twice and had other chances. I feel bad for the players.”
Meanwhile, since transforming perennial underachievers Ivory Coast into African champions four years ago, Herve Renard has tormented them as coach of Morocco.
The 50-year-old Frenchman, whose matchday shirts are always white, ensured the 2017 title defence of the Ivorians did not last beyond the first round as they fell 1-0 to the Moroccans.
Renard inflicted more misery on his former team in 2018 World Cup qualifying with a 2-0 triumph in Abidjan taking Morocco to Russia at the expense of the Ivory Coast.
Considered potential winners of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, Morocco and the Ivory Coast meet on Friday in a Group D top-of-the-table showdown in Cairo.
“This is a special game for me,” said Renard, the only coach to win the Cup of Nations with two countries, Zambia and the Ivory Coast.
Both countries launched their campaigns with solitary-goal victories in sweltering mid-afternoon Cairo heat, but the Ivorians will have been the happier side.
While they outmuscled South Africa and should have won by more than a Jonathan Kodjia strike, Morocco laboured to a win that came via a late Itamunua Keimuine own goal.
Ivory Coast coach Ibrahim Kamara said: “The result was more important than the performance. It was critical not to fail in our opening match”.
Rather than slam a lacklustre Moroccan display, Renard hailed Namibia: “They were well organised and coached.”
While both nations should make the last 16, winning the group would set up a fixture against one of the third-place qualifiers while coming second means taking on the Group E winners.
Also on Friday, Namibia take on South Africa and Mali face Tunisia.
Mali v Tunisia, 6.30pm
Ivory Coast v Morocco, 9pmNamibia v South Africa, midnight