Egypt’s glorious procession to a record extending eighth Cup of Nations title is expected to continue on Saturday night at the Cairo International Stadium with South Africa as the latest sacrifice.
Javier Aguirre’s men won all three of their games in Group A with star striker Mo Salah scoring twice.
South Africa slinked into the last 16 as one of the four best third-placed teams following a 1-0 victory over Namibia and defeats against Morocco and Cote d’Ivoire.
South Africa boss Stuart Baxter said on the eve of the clash against Egypt that his men would relish the chance to play in front of 70,000 vociferous partisans and silence the bellowing.
“The fact that we’re playing against the home nation is inspiring,” Baxter said “Knowing the Egyptian people, knowing their passion for football, knowing their expectations are very high, knowing that they have some great players, I believe that the pressure would be more on them because for them it would be a national disaster if South Africa beat them.”
That prospect though appears unlikely from the performances in the group stages where South Africa struggled to construct chances while Egypt boasted not only Salah’s inspirational genius but a threat down their right flank in the shape of Trézéguet.
Baxter added: “We will go into the game quietly believing that we can cause an upset, but knowing that we will have to play very, very well because this is a good Egyptian team and they will have massive support.
“Maybe one of the jobs that we have to do is to try to quiet the crowd by being a tougher opponent than people think.”
Aguirre concurs with his counterpart. “Anyone playing against us has the idea that they have nothing to lose,” said the 60-year-old Mexican. “We are the favorites. We are playing at home. We have Mohamed Salah. But for us it’s important to deal with this. We are 11 against 11 when the referee blows the whistle for the start of the game.”
Baxter hinted at a strategy of containment. “It’s our job to bring maybe some frustration … if we can do that and the crowd becomes a little bit impatient, the players will feel that on the field. We know that the home nation can be good thing. But that can be also a big pressure.”