How Stars fell to Pharaohs: A case of so near yet so far

BY DAVID ONJILI

On the eve of the game, I had predicted that Egypt’s attack would predominantly come from the right and specifically through Salah’s intelligent play exploiting Eric Ouma’s limited defensive abilities. That Salah would replicate what he does for his club, Liverpool FC, tuck inside the right channel and give room to Mohamed Moursy to advance. This overload down the right would deliver dangerous crosses with Hegazi as the target.

Well, 90 seconds into the game and Salah had dispossessed Eric Ouma, squared it to the overlapping Ahmed Hegazy who played a diagonal ball into the penalty area. A decoy run by Moustafa Mohamed left the ball for Moursy to score the opening goal.

The early goal played well into Egypt’s game-plan. They could now sit back and absorb pressure and hope to hit Stars on the counter. This was evident when out of possession; they had all their players behind the ball and only Salah up front. Hoping to use his pace against the Stars’ high defensive line.

Salah also ‘avoided’ direct runs against Ouma, preferring to drop deep and play make. In the 50th minute, he dropped deep pulling Ouma and the defense before playing the ball over the defense to Moustafa Mohamed, a good rush out of his goal-line by Ian Otieno forced a decent save.

Jacob Mulee

This was his second competitive game in charge of the national (on return) team after he had been outclassed by Comoros away. He handed a debut for Daniel Sakari playing at right-back. With dependable, fast-rising Joseph Okumu absent, Johnstone Omurwa was paired with Simba’s Joash Onyango. The former being the right center back.

Upfront, he chose a twin pairing of Masud Juma and Michael Olunga. Despite the former scoring a disallowed goal in the first half and forcing a decent save from keeper Elshenanny in the second half, he was largely absent from the game. It was quite odd that Cliff Nyakeya was benched and even more baffling how Mulee opted to play an out-and-out striker in Masud on the left-wing instead of a winger.

Bandari’s Abdalla Hassan netted Stars’ equalizer in the second half from a goalmouth melee after an Eric Ouma corner. This is despite being wasteful on two clear goal chances. But the duo’s defensive and offensive co-ordination down the right was a stark contrast to the lack of co-ordination between Eric Ouma and Masud Juma on the right, underlying the importance of playing an out and out winger instead of a striker.

Aston Villa’s Mohmed David Trezeguet was excellently kept out of the game by Sakari whose close man-marking denied the Aston Villa marksman any chance to turn goal-side, constantly directing him wide. He was aided by Abdalla who wasn’t tired to do his defensive duties.

Sakari’s long throw-ins into the penalty area were a spectacle to behold. In the first half he had three of such where one was headed wide and two resulted in routine saves by keeper Elshenanny, going to show how ineffective they were. However, when he played a short throw into Abdalla’s path in the first half, it caught the Egyptian defense napping. Abdalla dribbled past Abdel Fattah before laying the ball to the advancing Agayi who had an excellent shot from outside the box saved by the goalie. It was one of the best-attacking moves of the first half and it came from the right flank.

An ineffective 4-4-2

Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann, Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp, Meddie Kagere and Michael Olunga are examples of twin strike partnerships that have at one time been very successful under a 4-4-2 system. If you keenly look at the striking duo in each case, there is a ‘big’ striker and a ‘small’ striker in the partnership. Or one who is more gifted than the other on the ball. The reasoning is that the other striker plays off the main striker, pouncing off loose balls and layoffs from the main. For Stars’ it wasn’t the case.

In playing both Masud and Olunga, the intention was there but poor execution cost the coach. Masud was nowhere near Olunga to utilize any loose balls or feed of him, rather, he was out wide as an out and out winger. Even Lawrence Juma, the Stars’ most advanced midfielder was not near the striker. This made marking Olunga quite an easy task, as he remained isolated.

The midfield buildup was visibly disjointed. On several occasions, both Muguna and Agayi dropped into the same horizontal line to start the build-up. This denied the team any vertical penetration, forcing the ball back to Omurwa who would play a hopeful long ball upfront.

Whereas a section of fans felt that Stars had played well, I found this very odd. Coach Mulee had wrong personnel and wrong tactics and the game relied on individual brilliance of the players in most instances.

The twinning partnership failed miserably, employing a flat 4-4-2 in midfield was a bad idea too, and playing Masud wide instead of having an outright winger made the team quite ineffective.

The game also highlighted the importance of continuity. Eric Ouma continued his impressive attacking form from the AFCON finals in Egypt. While former coach Migne had employed him in a more attacking role and had Abud Omar to cover at left-back, coach Mulee returned him to left-back, and despite this, he produced several of Kenya’s best attacks, three of which were wasted by the floundering Michael Olunga, and it is from his corner that Abdalla scored the equalizer.

With the draw, Egypt joined Comoros Islands from Group G to qualify for the AFCON 2022 Finals to be held in Cameroon. Stars miss out on continental football again, a case of so near yet so far.

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