by Simon Daish
Champions at last year’s African Championships, Egypt also managed to be the number one seeds for the competition which in many cases would have made them strong favourites to win the title. Having lost out to Nigeria in the final of the 2015 African Games however-and with the Nigerian players in good form-if anything it was Egypt who went into the tie as the more unlikely team to succeed in Agadir.
Quadri Aruna has been one of Nigeria’s standout representatives for the past few years now and having established a new Olympic record at Rio 2016 of becoming the first African to reach the quarter-finals of an Olympic Table Tennis event, the expectancy was high to see him deliver a solid showing against Egypt and he very much achieved that task.
The opening match saw Aruna dismantle Mohamed El-Beiali (EGY) with ease (3-0) to put Nigeria ahead, but Egypt also had a trick up their sleeve with last year’s Men’s Singles champion Omar Assar registering a 0-3 win over seven time Olympian Segun Toriola (NGR) to bring the match level at 1-1.
Then Egypt took the lead in the tie for the first time as Ahmed Saleh prevented a comeback win for Bode Abiodun (NGR), holding on for a 2-3 victory. Nigeria did manage one comeback success as Aruna recovered from 0-2 down to defeat Assar 3-2 to shift the momentum away from the Egyptians with the final heading into a decider.
Toriola appeared to be sending Nigeria to the top step of the podium after he moved two games in front against El-Beiali, but the Egyptian player refused to give up and rather shockingly El-Beiali stole three consecutive ends to complete a wonderful comeback (11-6, 11-9, 7-11, 4-11, 8-11) and ensure that Egypt would remain as the African Championships Men’s Team title holders.
“We knew from the start of the match that Segun Toriola was a dangerous player and we planned to take a 2-1 lead, hoping that Omar Assar would defeat Quadri Aruna in the fourth tie. Unfortunately Omar lost but we were confident that Mohamed El-Beiali would deliver and I am so happy that he did it for us… I am so happy that I am a part of this team and I will cherish this victory for a long time” – Ahmed Saleh (Egypt).
While Nigerian athletes may have been grabbing many of the African Table Tennis headlines in recent months, the Egyptian squad has provided a gentle reminder that they too are a force to be reckoned with in the sport.