Pharaohs fight back as Fennecs keep their cool
Egypt survive a scare to see off Jordan
Algeria prevail on penalties
Tunisia-Egypt, Qatar-Algeria the confirmed semi-finals
The last-four line-up at the FIFA Arab Cup is complete after Egypt and Algeria edged epic encounters to set up semi-finals against Tunisia and Qatar respectively.
The North African duo emerged triumphant after two very different but equally thrilling matches, both of which ebbed and flowed before going into extra time and, in the later kick-off, beyond. Les Fennecs needed penalties to edge a titanic tussle with Morocco, while Egypt fell behind before battling back to dominate and, ultimately, overpower a valiant Jordan side.
There was certainly plenty for FIFA.com to enjoy and reflect upon during a day of high drama in Doha.
Pharaohs’ goal leads a charmed life Only once in their last 27 international matches have Egypt have conceded more than one goal. It’s a remarkable statistic; almost as remarkable, in fact, as the fact it remained intact throughout a first half today that was laden with opportunities for their opponents. Having faced just two shots on target throughout the entire group stage, Mohammed El Shenawy needed to deal with five from Jordan in the opening 45 alone – all of which might easily have ended up in the net. Ultimately, only a mixture of El Shenawy’s excellence and ill fortune prevented the underdogs extending their early lead, and when Ali Olwan saw a superb shot flash off the underside of the crossbar and rebound to safety off the post, Jordan must have sensed that this was not to be their day. Sure enough, Egypt equalised, emerged as a team transformed in the second half, strengthened their stranglehold in extra time and departed the field as genuinely deserving winners.
Spreading the strikes around Whatever criticisms are levelled at Carlos Queiroz’s Egypt, it cannot be said that they are short of attacking weapons. While other sides in Qatar have looked to the same players for goals and assists, the Pharaohs have found attacking inspiration throughout their team. That is reflected in the fact that their ten goals at the FIFA Arab Cup have been shared between nine different players, with Ahmed Refaat – the super-sub who fired them in front in extra time with his second goal of the tournament – the sole exception to this rule.
Belaili brilliance tames Atlas Lions By almost any and every metric, Morocco were the team of the group stage. They won all three games without conceding a goal, scored more than anyone else and even attempted more shots and won more corners in the process. But they hadn’t run into an opponent quite like Algeria. So it was that this erstwhile unstoppable Atlas Lions team suddenly met its match, with an impossibly tight and evenly matched encounter illuminated by a moment of real magic. Youcef Belaili was the man to etch his name into Algerian football folklore with an audacious spin and long-range volley that looped over the stranded Anas Zniti and very nearly lifted the roof off the Al Thumama Stadium. Qatari fans, though, had seen this kind of thing from Belaili before; indeed, he scored a near-identical wonder goal for his Doha-based club, Qatar SC. The same man later kicked off the shootout for Algeria, setting the tone - and the standard - with an ice-cool finish.
Fans bring the noise As enthusiasm for the FIFA Arab Cup continues to grow, crowds have been increasing and so too have the noise levels. Nearly 30,000 Egypt and Jordan proved that in today’s first game before the decibel levels were raised further still by a truly wonderful atmosphere at the Al Thumama Stadium. The demand for tickets and rivalry between Algeria and Morocco ensured that, unlikely in previous games – where supporters have mingled together – a 50-50 split was arranged, with two stands entirely in green and the others swathed in red. The result was a feast for the eyes and ears, with fans from each side competing over which of them could offer the most colourful and ear-splitting backing. As well as being a game that neither side deserved to lose, it was a match from which neither set of superb supporters deserved to return home unhappy.
10 – Striking first is becoming a habit for this Algeria side, who have now taken the lead in their last ten successive matches.
“It was a beautiful quarter-final. Egyptians will be happier, of course, but I think Jordan fans can be very proud too because their team played some wonderful football. They were better than us at the start. We were a bit nervous and they were on fire. But then there was a fantastic comeback from my players. It was beautiful to see.” Carlos Queiroz, Egypt coach
Wednesday 15 December (all times local)
Semi-finals Tunisia-Egypt (18:00, Ras Abu Aboud Stadium) Qatar-Algeria (22:00, Al Thumama Stadium)