It was billed as the Mohamed Salah versus Naby Keita show, but Mostafa Mohamed took centre stage with a late winner as Egypt beat Guinea 1-0 on Sunday in 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying.
Liverpool teammates and national team captains, Salah and Keita were creative but failed to score in a Group D first round match that offered little excitement for the Cairo crowd.
Substitute Mohamed, who plays for Turkish giants Galatasaray, ended the deadlock on 87 minutes from time with a shot that Mouctar Diakhaby deflected past goalkeeper Ibrahima Kone.
New Egypt coach Ehab Gabal promised a “different playing style” after the twin disappointments of losing to Senegal both in the Cup of Nations final last February and in a World Cup play-off one month later.
But he made a forgettable debut and more will be expected of the Pharaohs when they play Ethiopia on Thursday before Salah takes a well deserved break.
In the same group, Malawi edged Ethiopia 2-1 in a clash of 2021 Cup of Nations qualifiers, with all the goals in Lilongwe coming from penalties.
Frank ‘Gabadinho’ Mhango fired spot kicks into the right corner and the middle of the net to give the Flames a two-goal half-time advantage.
But Ethiopia created a tense finish by halving the deficit midway through the second half when Abubeker Nassir converted the third penalty of the match.
Egypt are favoured to win the group as they chase a record-extending eighth title, with Guinea and Malawi fighting to come second, so the stakes will be high when they meet on Thursday in Conakry.
Qatar World Cup qualifiers Ghana battled in Group E against the Central African Republic, who forced a 1-1 draw despite playing in Angola because they do not have an international-standard stadium.
After hammering Madagascar 3-0 on Wednesday, Ghana would have expected to pick up three more points at a neutral venue against rivals 27 places lower in the world rankings.