Egypt will make a record-extending 23rdappearance at next year’s African Cup of Nations finals, their first since 2010, after a double from Mohamed Salah earned them a 2-0 victory over Tanzania in Dar es Salaam on Saturday.
The in-form AS Roma winger curled home a free kick on the stroke of halftime and finished off a breakaway 14 minutes after the restart as Egypt finished their Nations Cup qualifying campaign without a single defeat, helping coach Hector Cuper fulfill his first target with the ailing seven-time African champions.
Egypt were almost assured of a place at next year’s Gabon finals when they beat Nigeria 1-0 at home in their previous qualifier in March, leaving Tanzania with no chance but to beat them by at least a three-goal margin to stand a chance of causing an upset.
The slim hopes Tanzania had were crushed just before the halftime whistle when Salah opened the scoring. The hosts wasted a penalty early in the second half before Salah netted again to take his tally to 26 goals in 43 international appearances.
Egypt, who will not play in the final round of the qualifiers due to the withdrawal of Chad, finished on top of Group G with 10 points from three wins and a draw, eight ahead of Nigeria and nine clear of Tanzania, who meet in a final meaningless qualifier.
They became the fourth side to reach the Nations Cup after Morocco, Algeria and Cameroon.
Saturday’s win over Tanzania will also make Egypt a top-seed side in the anticipated draw for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, which will take place later this month.
Egypt once again appeared solid despite offering little upfront,with their resolute defence ensuring they would keep a clean sheet away from home, having conceded a solitary goal in a 1-1 draw at Nigeria in March.
Veteran 43-year-old keeper Essam El-Hadary made his first appearance since November 2014 and seemed as assured as ever, pulling off an impressive save to deny a far-post header from Thomas Ulimwengu on 29 minutes during a period of sustained Tanzanian pressure.
Apart from a free header from central defender Rami Rabia which went just wide four minutes earlier, Egypt were largely pegged back as coach Hector Cuper stuck to his trademark cautious approach which has characterized his reign with the Pharaohs.
A shot from Ulimwengu went over the crossbar after he held off his challenger and Ally Samatta created Tanzania’s best chance when his low shot from inside the area was deflected off defender Ali Gabr to wrong-foot El-Hadary and go just wide of the post.
Salah scored against the run of play after winger Mahmoud Trezeguet was felled on the edge of the area, curling a low shot into the bottom corner past the despairing dive of the keeper.
Substitute Amr Warda clumsily brought down a Tanzanian forward on 53 minutes but Ally Samatta blasted the ensuing spot kick high over as El-Hadary breathed a sigh of relief.
Egypt made sure of the three points six minutes later when Salah outpaced his marker to break clear following a deft through pass from playmaker Abdallah El-Said, maintaining his balance despite attempts from a defender to bring him down before slotting home with aplomb.