Another step closer to lifting their standout eighth Africa Cup of Nations, Egypt named a strong front three despite the absence of Mohamed Salah, with Mostafa Mohamed notably scoring in all three of the Pharaohs’ group stage matches.
Meanwhile, after emerging victorious in only one of their last 10 internationals, the Democratic Republic of the Congo hoped to get across the line in one of the nation’s most-anticipated games in recent memory.
EGY: Gabal, Hany, Abdelmonem, Hegazy, El Fotouh; Elneny, Sayed, Ateya; Fathi, Trézéguet, Mohamed
DRC: Mpasi; Masuaku, Batubinsika, Mbemba, Kalulu; Moutoussamy, Pickel, Bongonda; Wissa, Elia, Bakambu
Encountering one another for the first time since June 2019, in which the absent Mohamed Salah got his name on the scoresheet in a 2-0 victory, Egypt began on the front foot as Ahmed Hegazy blasted over a diving header from close range when it looked simpler for the former West Bromwich Albion defender to have hit the back of the net.
At the opposite end of the field, the Democratic Republic of the Congo struggled to call Mohamed Abou Gabal into action throughout a frustrating opening half-an-hour.
With the half-time interval on the horizon, the game was covered in a blanket of controversy in the 37th minute, as a quickly-taken throw-in caught the Pharaohs off-guard – resulting in referee Abongile Tom surrounded afterwards – that allowed Yoane Wissa to cross for Meschak Elia to head home from practically underneath the crossbar.
Unbelievably, Rui Vitória’s side were gifted a way back into the game six minutes later as VAR entered calculations to advise the man in the middle – via the off-pitch monitor – that Dylan Batubinsika’s elbow on Hegazy should be punishable by the name of a penalty. As previously mentioned, Mostafa Mohamed had already scored in all three of the Pharaohs’ Group B matches, with the Nantes’ striker again making no mistake in finding the back of the net as he confidently fired past Lionel Mpasi from the spot.Embed from Getty Images
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, who have also lifted the Africa Cup of Nations trophy albeit mostly recently in 1974, restarted the contest as Egypt did with Cédric Bakambu agonisingly heading wide from an inswinging corner.
However, in a stark contrast to the chaotic concluding scenes of the opening 45 minutes, the striker’s effort would be the nations’ only significant effort on goal in a scrappy second half – as an extra course of 30 minutes was added to the menu in San Pédro.
Already feeling the physical effects of playing close to a century of minutes, Egypt faced an even more difficult task of progressing to the quarterfinals as defender Mohamed Hamdy Zaky was given his marching orders for a second yellow card following a rash challenge. Despite their numeral advantage, the Léopards were not able to take control of the contest as Gabal and Mpasi prepared themselves, physically and mentally, to become a national hero.
Ultimately, it was the Democratic Republic of the Congo that were left celebrating as in somewhat ironic fashion Egyptian goalkeeper Gabal blasted his penalty over the crossbar, leaving his positional counterpart Mpasi the jubilant honour of sending his nation through to the quarterfinals of the 2023 TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations.