Six-time champions Egypt defeated Benin 2-0 at the Ombaka Stadium on Wednesday to extend their unbeaten run in the CAF Africa Cup of Nations to 15 games and qualify for the last eight of this year's competition.
The victory also meant that the Pharaohs finished top of Group C with the maximum nine points and will face the second-placed team in Group D in one of the quarter-finals on Monday. The Egyptians are also on course for an unprecedented seventh Nations Cup title, while skipper Ahmed Hassan won his 169th cap against Benin to tie the Egyptian record for most international appearances.
Despite the scoreline, Egypt assistant coach, Shawki Gharib, insisted the winning margin should have been more decisive. "We should have scored more goals, but it was also important that we won this game. We threw away several chances, but we also have to give some credit to the Benin goalkeeper, who pulled off several saves," said Gharib. "We are here to defend our crown as champions of Africa. All the games here are tough, but we are here to fight and in the end succeed. This is a feeling shared by the entire team."
Benin coach Michel Dessuyer said his team were unlucky in Angola but have learnt a few lessons and would continue to work hard. "We were unlucky not to make the impact we had hoped for here. We have taken some lessons from this experience and we will continue to work hard for us to do far better next time," said the French coach.
Egypt, who rested key stars like Ahmed Fathi and Wael Gomaa, took the lead after only seven minutes through an audacious effort by Ahmed Al-Mohammadi. The highly-rated ENPPI defender swung a shot from about 40 metres to catch Benin goalkeeper Yoann Djidonou off his line and sail into the top right corner of the net. The defending champions then doubled their advantage in the 23rd minute when Emad Motaeb bundled the ball over the goalline after Ahmed Raouf's header from 12 yards out crashed against the post with the Benin goalkeeper beaten.
Egypt continued to cruise and would have increased their lead in the 27th minute but Raouf's diving header from inside the 18-yard box flew straight at goalkeeper Djidonou for him to make an easy save.
Benin, who kicked off this game a man short after striker Razak Omotoyossi was ordered to be more properly dressed, also had a few chances in front of goal in the first half. Sleek passing by the Pharaohs appeared to cause all sorts of trouble for the Squirrels from Benin with Hassan at the heart of the Egyptian attacks.
On resumption, Benin fought for an equaliser but it was Egypt who could have scored again in the 55th minute when Hassan's long through ball set up Raouf, who darted into the box only for Djidonou to get his foot to the ball. Motaeb was a constant danger against Benin and moments later, he again came close when Al-Mohammadi swung another cross into the Benin area, but his marker shut him out.
In the 65th minute substitute Mohammed Aoudou tested the reflexes of the durable Essam El-Hadary in goal for Egypt when he rose above the defence to power a free kick from the right flank towards goal only for the Ismailia goalkeeper to tip the ball for a corner. Omotoyossi would have reduced the deficit in the 70th minute but he flashed his angled shot from inside the box wide as El-Hadary dived to avert danger.
Egyptian substitute Mohamed Zidan was denied a goal in the 78th minute by the Benin goalkeeper, who scrambled his low shot for a corner. And five minutes later, Djidonou again rose to the occasion to deny Hosny Abdrabou, Motaeb, Hassan and then Mohamed Nagy as Egypt went in search of more goals.