Egypt v Ghana: Cuper backs Elneny to deliver in crucial Group D clash

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Egypt boss Hector Cuper has defended the form of Mohamed Elneny ahead of Wednesday's crucial Africa Cup of Nations clash with Ghana.

The Arsenal midfielder has come in for criticism for his underwhelming displays against Mali and Uganda in Group D.

Abdallah El Said's 89th-minute goal against Uganda on matchday two has put Egypt in a strong position to qualify regardless of their unconvincing displays, with a draw against leaders Ghana enough to guarantee their place in the quarter-finals.

But rather than be tempted to take Elneny out of the firing line, Cuper has backed him to deliver against the team they beat 1-0 in the final of the 2010 tournament.

"I am very satisfied with Elneny's performance and what he delivers to the team," he told a news conference.

"I can't satisfy 90 million people - that's not football. In football, the manager is the one who takes the responsibility.

"We always look for the team's best interest, which is more important than the players, the formation and myself."

Ghana have already qualified following two wins from their first two games but will guarantee top spot with a point at Stade de Port-Gentil.

Despite their progress having already been assured, head coach Avram Grant says he will not rest his key players as he wants everyone to be as sharp as possible for the knockout phase.

"We want to win on Wednesday. We want to improve in every game we play," he said.

"Some of our key players did not play a lot of games in the last six months due to injuries, so they need games to put them into their best shape possible."

 

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Abdallah El Said - Egypt

Having hit the winner against Uganda, El Said will have the weight of expectation of a nation on his shoulders as Egypt look to ensure their passage to the last eight.

The 31-year-old also registered the best passing accuracy (93 per cent) of anyone in Cuper's side after coming off the bench with a little over half an hour to play, highlighting his impact in the final third.

Given that he was also on the scoresheet when these teams last met in November 2016, it would be safe to back the Al Ahly striker to make an impact.

 

Thomas Partey - Ghana

Ghana may need only a draw to guarantee a quarter-final spot but they will be eager to claim all three points and go through as Group D winners.

Atletico Madrid's Thomas Partey is likely to play a major role given the strength of Egypt's midfield. The 23-year-old, who was man of the match against Mali, will be pivotal in disrupting the influence of Elneny and Mohamed Salah through the middle, especially given the way Grant's bold attacking line-up in midfield can often leave the Black Stars exposed.

Thomas' reputation is growing in LaLiga; another decisive performance here will only enhance his pedigree.

 

KEY OPTA STATS:

- Ghana are the only team to have reached the semi-finals in each of the last five AFCON tournaments.
- Egypt have gone 21 AFCON games without defeat (W16 D5), last losing in the 2004 tournament (against Algeria) and have only conceded one goal across their last seven matches in the tournament.
- Ghana have only lost once in their last 12 AFCON group matches (W9, D2) and have got on the scoresheet at least once in their last 18 group games.
- The record between Egypt and Ghana in the AFCON is perfectly balanced, with one win each and one draw (two goals each). Their last meeting in the competition dates back to the 2010 final (1-0 to Egypt).