Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah converted a stoppage-time penalty to give Egypt a dramatic 2-1 win over Congo Brazzaville Sunday and a place at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Salah put Egypt ahead during the second half in Alexandria only for Arnold Bouka Moutou to equalise two minutes from the end of regular time.
Victory gave Egypt an uncatchable four-point lead over Uganda in Group E with one round of fixtures remaining.
Uganda were held 0-0 by Ghana in Kampala Saturday.
Egypt last qualified for the World Cup in 1990 with the record seven-time African champions suffering numerous heart-breaking failures since.
The desperation to qualify was so great ahead of the Congo match that Argentina-born Egypt coach Hector Cuper admitted he was taking medication for high blood pressure.
“I am taking hypertension medicine due to the stress I suffer from continuing criticism,” he told reporters without specifying who his critics were.
“Life is full of stress, but the challenge of reaching the World Cup is the toughest stress I have faced.”
Egypt also beat Congo away and Ghana and Uganda at home to accumulate 12 points, with the only loss away to Uganda.
Young Andre Silva has made an excellent start to his international career, coming into Saturday night’s World Cup qualifier against Andorra having tallied seven goals and one assist in his previous eight qualifying games.
So it didn’t raise too many eyebrows when manager Fernando Santos, who decided to rest Cristiano Ronaldo for this fixture, entrusted Silva with the responsibility of leading the line for Portugal in Andorra.
It ended up being a mixed bag from the young AC Milan forward, who impressed with his skill and his poise on the ball, but couldn’t find his scoring touch, forcing Santos to bring Ronaldo on at halftime – a move that ended up benefitting Silva as well, although he was lucky he wasn’t the one being brought off for Portugal’s talisman.
Here’s a look at Silva’s performance in Portugal’s 2-0 win.
Against stubborn, defensive opponents, Silva found freedom to roam at the head of Portugal’s attack, often popping up on either wing or dropping deep to get on the ball. It was a performance that was both industrious and skillful, but Silva forgot his finishing boots.
He had his chances to score before halftime, and had he done so, Ronaldo wouldn’t have needed to come in and save the day.
33rd min CHANCE: Presented with a glorious chance to open the scoring – easily Portugal’s best chance of what had been a frustrating first half up to that point – Silva fluffed his lines.
The Milan forward, from yards out, actually caught a falling ball out of the air with a perfect volley – except for the fact that it went yards over the crossbar, when he really should have scored.
82nd min CHANCE: At this point, with Ronaldo having come on and scored, some of the pressure had been lifted off Silva’s shoulders, but he was still looking for a goal to erase the frustrations of his night.
Ronaldo gave him one on a platter, teeing Silva up after some good work on the right wing. only for the 21-year-old to blaze over from close range.
86th min GOAL: At long last, Silva’s wait for a goal came to an end. It was again down to Ronaldo, who changed the game completely after coming on at halftime. The Real Madrid star sent in a teasing cross from the left, and right-back Danilo’s header back across goal set Silva up for a tap-in.
What was impressive was Silva’s movement to get in that position – when Ronaldo crossed from the wing, Silva was almost right next to him, yet like any good striker he used his movement to find space in the box so that when Danilo’s header came to him, he was two yards out with no one marking him.
Silva came into this game having scored 9 goals in 15 senior starts for Portugal, so Santos was justified in starting him against perceived weaker opponents in Andorra and allowing Ronaldo to rest up for next week’s crucial clash against Switzerland.
However, the young forward didn’t do enough to repay his manager’s faith in him. He led the line well and found pockets of space to exploit, but his finishing let him down as he passed up chance after chance until there was finally one he couldn’t miss.
As they say for strikers, all that matters is the goals.
Omar al-Soma buried a late penalty as war-torn Syria drew 1-1 with Australia to put their two-legged World Cup play-off on a knife-edge on Thursday.
Australia were within sight of victory after Robbie Kruse’s first-half goal, but when Mathew Leckie nudged Soma on 84 minutes the towering forward made no mistake from the spot.
It sets up a nerve-wracking second leg in Sydney on Tuesday, with the eventual winners going into another play-off with a CONCACAF federation team for a spot at Russia 2018.
Syria, playing their ‘home’ games in Malaysia because of the civil war raging in their country, are pursuing their dream of playing their first World Cup, while Asian champions Australia are trying to reach their fourth in a row.
Both teams made a cagey start in front of a sparse but Syrian-dominated crowd in sultry conditions at the Hang Jebat Stadium, a low-key setting for such an important game.
Mark Milligan’s fizzing shot with the outside of his left boot tested Mahmoud al-Youssef on 19 minutes, while Soma provided Syria’s chief threat at the other end.
Matthew Leckie blasted over on 29 minutes before Soma twice set up Omar Khribin for opportunities that the in-form Al Hilal striker put wide of the Australian goal.
Five minutes before half-time, Leckie created Australia’s opener when he received a ball down the right from Milos Degenek, cut inside and arrowed a shot which went in off the boot of Kruse.
After the break, Tomi Juric was unlucky to see his shot come back off the woodwork – and even unluckier when, bizarrely, he crashed the rebound off the same post.
But Syria were looking dangerous and Khribin had a shot blocked by Leckie, before Soma headed a good chance over and was then denied an almost certain goal by Degenek’s last-ditch lunge.
As the game headed into the final quarter, Ouday Jaffal had a close-range free kick cleared off the line and Khribin’s deflected set piece sailed just wide.
Syria should have been level on 78 minutes but Soma’s point-blank header was deflected onto the post in a reflex stop by Socceroos ‘keeper Mathew Ryan.
The critical moment came with six minutes to go, when Leckie made contact mid-air with Soma and Iranian referee Alireza Faghani pointed to the spot.
In the dying moments, Trent Sainsbury had a close-range header saved and Ryan clawed away a Moayad al-Ajan shot, but they shared the spoils to set up Tuesday’s tense decider in Sydney.