Egypt coach Bob Bradley’s preferred strategy is a 4-2-3-1 formation, which he used to good effect in an impressive group-stage run that saw his side bag maximum points from six matches.
However, he may opt for a more cautious 4-3-3 formation against Ghana in a bid to stifle the Black Stars’ powerful midfield through deploying three holding midfielders, including the tough-tackling Hossam Ashour.
Ghana play with a similar strategy to Egypt, with three attacking midfielders supporting lone striker Gyan Asamoah, whose ability to keep the ball under his control and drift back to midfield to make room for his onrushing teammates always comes in handy for the Black Stars.
Egypt’s counter-attacking abilities, which they nurtured under Bradley’s predecessor Hassan Shehata, are unrivalled. The deft defence-splitting passes of Mohamed Abou-Treika and the trickery and pace of winger Mohamed Salah usually catch audacious opposition off guard.
Ghana’s compact, physical midfield is too resilient. The likes of Sulley Muntari, Mubarak Wakaso and Michael Essien form an almost unbreakable bond while Kwadwo Asamoah and Andrew Ayew provide the spark needed to unlock opposing backlines.
Their knack to press high up the pitch also unsettles the build-up play of their opponents.
Egypt can count on the experience of several veterans such as Abou-Treika, Wael Gomaa and Hossam Ghaly while Ghana can take heart from the abundance of European-based players at their disposal, including those who play for high-profile clubs such as AC Milan and Juventus.
On paper, it’s difficult to pinpoint obvious weaknesses in Ghana’s game, but the high backline strategy they usually adopt may give Egypt the chance to exploit some gaps in their defence on the break.
Egypt’s shortage of reliable defenders, on the other hand, will give coach Bob Bradley a selection headache, given recent frailties at the back.
There are also little options for the American boss upfront, with first-choice striker Mohamed Nagy ‘Gedo’ struggling to regain fitness after a three-month injury layoff and Amr Zaki still finding his way as a deadly finisher after suffering a dip in form.
Ghana’s rock-solid defence displayed its strength during a qualifying run that saw them concede just three goals in six matches.
However, their brick wall could be breached against Egypt after a string of injuries hit their rearguard, with John Boye, Jonathan Mensah and Isaac Vorsah ruled out of the match. Lively full-back Harrison Afful will also be unavailable through suspension.
Egypt do not have injury worries at the back but their squad boasts only one reliable central defender in the evergreen Wael Gomaa, with his Ahly teammates Mohamed Naguib and Rami Rabia lacking sufficient experience for such high-profile games.
Ahly’s unyielding right-back Ahmed Fathi is likely to get the nod ahead of the more attacking-minded Ahmed Elmohamady while Zamalek’s Abdel-Shafy will compete with Ahly’s Sayed Moawad for the left-back place.
Sherif Ekrami will retain his place as Egypt’s regular keeper after some assured displays lately while Ghana are likely to keep faith with Fatawu Dauda of South Africa’s Orlando Pirates.
Ghana’s main strength lies in a physical midfield that also features players who are equally adept at closing down spaces and creating spaces for their teammates.
Sulley Muntari and Kwadwo Asamoah perfectly fit in that role, giving winger Andre Ayew more freedom to operate behind the lone striker.
However, Ghana’s rhythm in the middle could still be affected if Schalke’s Kevin-Prince Boateng fails to make the game due to injury, with the team likely to sorely miss his adventurous forays and long-range shots.
Hardworking midfielder Mohammed Rabiu is also out but Ghana’s rich squad still includes the likes of Chelsea’s Michael Essien, Rubin Kazan’s Mubarak Wakaso and Udinese’s Emmanuel Badu.
Egypt’s creative midfielder Hossam Ghaly is certain to start and he might be partnered with Hosni Abd-Rabou, who pulls the strings in the team’s midfield.
The Pharaohs will still need Hossam Ashour, a classic defensive midfielder who will be burdened with suffocating Ghana’s sources of play.
Both sides play with a lone striker but, while Gyan is Ghana’s undisputed choice upfront, Egypt are struggling for an out-and-out frontman.
Gedo or Zaki could spearhead Egypt’s attack against Ghana but Bradley may also make a bold move and play without a recognized striker.
He may rely on a three-pronged attack which would be also tasked with defensive duties. Bradley could also make use of another powerful weapon – the devastating combination between Mohamed Salah and Mohamed Abou-Treika.
The neat one-twos between both men were vital in helping Egypt brush aside Mozambique, Guinea and Zimbabwe en route to the final two-legged playoff.