North Africans on top as favourites flex their muscles

Morocco--FIFA-Arab-Cup-Qatar-2021

· Big wins for Algeria and Morocco on the FIFA Arab Cup’s second matchday

· Egypt made to sweat

· Baghdad Bounedjah and Abelilah Hafidi among the players to shine

Upsets were conspicuous by their absence on day two of the FIFA Arab Cup 2021™ as a few of the region’s heavyweights reinforced their title credentials. North African nations enjoyed a particularly fruitful time of it, with Egypt, Algeria and Morocco all emerging with maximum points and the latter pair doing so with a degree of ease.

FIFA.com rounds up the action after more teams took their first steps in this inaugural tournament.

Results

Wednesday 1 December

Group C:

Morocco 4-0 Palestine

Group D:

Algeria 4-0 Sudan

Egypt 1-0 Lebanon

Algeria  - FIFA Arab Cup

The moments

Bounedjah thrives on a happy hunting ground

We identified Baghdad Bounedjah as a likely star ahead of Algeria’s FIFA Arab Cup opener, and the striker more than lived up to his billing. In truth, there should have been no surprise at him claiming a fine brace to become the tournament’s joint-top scorer at this stage. Besides his obvious goal-grabbing ability, Bounedjah pointed out afterwards that he is “used to scoring” at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium – with some justification. After all, the striker famously bagged an Emir Cup-winning brace for his club, Al Sadd, when this impressive arena was inaugurated last December.

Mohamad Afsha (no.22) of Egypt celebrates with teammates after scoring the opening goal with a penalty during the FIFA Arab Cup group D soccer match between Egypt and Lebanon in Doha, Qatar

Siblings sunk by single slip

Egypt were heavy favourites against Lebanon but found the going tough for the opening 70 minutes as their opponents held out resolutely. Robert and Felix Melki – the only brothers in the competition – were crucial to the underdogs’ defensive effort, and didn’t deserve to end up on the losing side. But that was to be their fate thanks to one costly moment, when the former’s timing was out for once – “if only I’d been a few moments faster” he later lamented – with a penalty-conceding tackle. Mohamed Afsha took full advantage, capping a memorable year – which has included vital strikes for Al Ahly and Egypt in the CAF Champions League and FIFA World Cup™ qualifying respectively – by scoring from the spot for the Pharaohs’ first-ever goal at the FIFA Arab Cup.

Morocco-v-Palestine-FIFA-Arab-Cup-Qatar-2021

Nahiri’s bolt from the blue

Morocco, like the Egyptians before them, initially struggled to break down a determined, well-organised defence and, with half an hour played, had created next to nothing. Frustrated by the lack of progress being made by those in front of him, defender Mohammed Nahiri took matters into his own hands. When he picked the ball up 40 yards from goal, wide on the left and began cutting inside on his weaker foot, the Palestine players could have been forgiven for backing off, inviting the full-back to shoot. But that proved to be a fateful error as Nahiri sent a right-foot rocket flashing through the air and in off the underside of the crossbar, paving the way for a comfortable Moroccan win.

The stat

4 – With every team having now played, four players are tied at the top of the FIFA Arab Cup scoring chart on two goals apiece. Braces today from Bounedjah and Morocco’s Abelilah Hafidi saw them join Tunisia duo Firas Ben Larbi and Seifeddine Jaziri in setting the early pace.

The quote

FIFA.com