JOHANNESBURG: Unknown Mohamed Homos scored the goal that gave Egypt a shock 1-0 win over Italy and heightened hopes of two African qualifiers for the Confederations Cup semi-finals.
The clash of World Cup and African Nations Cup champions at Ellis Park was a thrilling climax to the fourth series of matches that began with Brazil cruising to a 3-0 victory over a 10-man United States at Loftus Versfeld. Egypt, who came into the tournament under a heavy cloud after a hammering from Algeria in a World Cup qualifier, remain third in Group B behind Italy on goal difference.
But the Pharaohs face a demoralised and pointless USA in their final pool fixture in Rustenburg on Sunday night while Italy must confront goal-hungry six-point Brazil in Pretoria at the same time. South Africa, staging the “festival of champions” to test their readiness to host the 2010 World Cup, are also in contention for a semi-finals slot with a three-point lead over Iraq going into the final series of Group A games.
Cameroon gave the best performance by an African team in the 2003 edition, reaching the final before failing 1-0 against hosts France in a tournament marred by the fatal on-pitch collapse of midfielder Marc-Vivien Foe.
After drawing with Zambia and losing to Algeria, Egypt arrived in South Africa like lambs ready for slaughter as injuries ruled out strikers Emad Moteab and Amr Zaki while Ahmed ‘Mido’ Hossam was out of favour. That left Mohamed Zidan as the only recognised striker used to the demands of top-class football and the Germany-based star demonstrated his class with a brace in an unlucky 4-3 loss against Brazil.
Coach Hassan Shehata made one change for the first clash with Italy in 55 years, bringing in midfielder Homos for veteran captain Ahmed Hassan, and it paid rich dividends five minutes before half-time. Mohamed Aboutrika floated a corner into the heart of the penalty area and Homos rose to head in via a post with Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon a helpless onlooker.
Another Egyptian hero emerged in the second half before a 50,000-plus crowd as veteran goalkeeper Essam al-Hadary made a string of superb saves to keep the Azzurri at bay. Even five minutes of stoppage time could not salvage a draw for the world champions while Al-Hadary and defender Wael Gomaa were shown yellow cards for time wasting.
The frenetic finish in Johannesburg contrasted sharply with Pretoria as Brazil scored twice within 20 minutes and added a third soon after Sacha Kljestan became the second American to be sent off in as many games. Felipe Melo headed the opener off a free kick, Ramires darted downfield to set up Robinho for the second and Maicon completed the rout with a close-range shot in the 62nd minute.