Hosts Egypt reached the round of 16 of the ongoing Total Africa Cup of Nations in grand style, winning all their Group A matches, scoring five goals and conceding none in the process. They will have a different challenge at the last 16 when they face South Africa’s Bafana Bafana on Saturday (6 July 2019) at the Cairo International Stadium.
Besides the brilliance of goalkeeper Mohamed Elshenawy who has kept three consecutive clean sheets, Egypt can thank defensive duo Ahmed Hegazi and Mahmoud Alaa, whose combination in the defense proved a decisive factor in the Pharaohs perfect record thus far.
Exactly the same age, Hegazi and Alaa, both 28 years, they have been part of the Egyptian team in two major competitions. Hegazi, who is just 3 days older than Alaa, played in the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup incidentally played in Egypt, before making a second appearance in Colombia in 2011, this time with Alaa. However, Alaa was an unused substitute in the tournament, while Hegazi featured in four matches incliuding the 2-1 loss to Argentina at the Round of 16 in Medellin. Hegazi even the scored the winner in the lone goal victory against Panama at the group stage.
Their partnership will take another turn a year later following Egypt's qualification to the 2012 Summer Olympics football tournament in London. This time, the pair played three games together in Egypt’s U-23 defense; against Brazil (2-3 defeat), New Zealand (1-1 draw) and Japan (0-3 defeat) as the Pharaohs bowed out of the quarter finals.
This time they are partnering for the first time at the senior level as Hegazi is having his second consecutive AFCON appearance compared to Alaa’s first.
Hegazi, currently on the books of English championship side West Bromwich Albion, played for Ismaily, Italian side Fiorentina and Perugia, and local giants Al Ahly. While Alaa started at army side Haras El Hodoud before joining Wadi Degla and then Zamalek with whom he cemented his status as a “scoring defender”.
“Playing besides Hegazi is a great advantage. He is an awesome defender. We all appreciate well the value of Egypt’s shirt, and whoever plays gives his best for the sake of Egypt’s victory at the end”, Alaa said after being chosen as Total Man of the Match of the opening game against Zimbabwe.
Once more, the old friends and identical aged duo will play their role, hoping to keep another clean sheet that could pave the hosts road to the quarter final, in their quest for a record extending eighth AFCON title.