Mohamed Abou-Treika converted a late penalty as Egypt made it three wins out of three after snatching a hard-fought 2-1 victory over a stubborn Zimbabwe side in the World Cup qualifying Group G on Tuesday.
The evergreen playmaker, back in action after a month-long injury, coolly slotted home from the spot with two minutes remaining to send around 10,000 fans into raptures at Alexandria’s Borg El-Arab Stadium.
Egypt failed to break down Zimbabwe in a dull first half but came out with all guns blazing in the second, launching waves after waves of attacks that resulted in a 64th-minute opener, thanks to a free-kick from midfielder Hosni Abd-Rabou.
However, they were punished for failing to put the result beyond doubt after Zimbabwe restored parity 11 minutes later when Knowledge Musona’s rasping volley left goalkeeper Abdel-Wahed El-Sayed, who replaced veteran custodian Essam El-Hadary in Egypt’s squad, with no chance.
Abou-Treika came to Egypt’s rescue after a last-man foul on Mohamed Salah as the group leaders moved five points clear of second-placed Guinea with three matches remaining.
Mozambique lie third on two points, one ahead of bottom side Zimbabwe. The group winners will advance to the decisive playoff, where five two-legged encounters will be held to determine Africa’s representatives at next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil.
Egypt, who have not qualified for the World Cup since 1990, were caught cold in a first half characterized by a resolute defensive display from Zimbabwe, who pressed the hosts high up the pitch and were even dangerous on the break.
Zimbabwe keeper Washington Arubi stole the limelight with some timely interceptions that cut short several Egyptian attempts, rushing out every time the offside trap is broken to clear the danger.
The visitors could have stunned the home crowd after 10 minutes when skipper Denver Mukamba capitalized on a defensive lapse to go clear but his shot from a tight angle hit the side netting. Egypt’s creative wingers Mohamed Salah and Mohamed Ibrahim repeatedly switched positions to unsettle Zimbabwe’s backline but they were restricted to some tame efforts.
The Pharaohs’ only clear-cut chance in a disappointing first half came in the 35th minute when Abou-Treika headed against the bar after being picked out by an inch-perfect cross from the right.
Egypt threw everything forward in the second half, slicing the Zimbabwean defence open on several occasions.
Their pressure paid dividends four minutes past the hour mark when a right-foot free-kick by Saudi-based midfielder Abd-Rabou found the top corner although Arubi got a hand to it.
Egypt poured forward in a bid to end the game as a contest but were guilty of spurning some golden goal-scoring opportunities.
Salah, Basel’s mercurial and speedy winger, rattled the bar with a powerful shot from close range and narrowly missed the target with a curling effort. A first-timer from Abou-Treika also went just wide.
Egypt had to pay for their wastefulness in the 75th minute when a long ball found Musona, who held off a tame challenge from central defender Mohamed Naguib to send a fierce volley that went past El-Sayed.
A late Egyptian onslaught helped them snatch all three points after they were awarded a penalty. Salah broke clear following a bursting run but was felled by Augustine Mbara, giving Abou-Treika the chance to secure a precious win with a low shot into the bottom corner.