Mohamed Salah fired Egypt to their third appearance in the FIFA World Cup and their first in 28 years, with the last one coming in 1990.
Egypt’s long wait to return to the FIFA World Cup came to end when talisman Mohamed Salah netted a late penalty to lead his team to a 2-1 win over DR Congo in Group E of their CAF Third Round qualifiers.
Despite having dominated the scenes in the continent for large periods, Egypt had slipped down in recent years when they struggled to even qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations. However, their fortunes have been on the rise in the past couple of years.
A run to the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations last year was followed by the qualification to the finals of the World Cup in Russia and the Pharaohs, led by experienced manager Hector Cuper, will be hoping to make an impact on the biggest stage, having returned after 28 years.
Group and Fixtures
Egypt have been drawn in Group A, that also comprises of hosts Russia, along with two-time winners Uruguay and Saudi Arabia. The African nation will kick their campaign off against the Uruguayans on the 15th of June, before going up against the hosts on 19th and will finish their group stage assignment against Saudi Arabia on the 25th.
— Egypt National Football Team (@Pharaohs) May 16, 2018
Manager Cuper has named a 29-man provisional squad for the trip to Russia, which will be trimmed down to 23 on or before the June 3 deadline. Here’s what their roster looks like:
Goalkeepers: Essam El-Hadary (Al Taawoun), Mohamed El-Shenawy (Al Ahly), Sherif Ekramy (Al Ahly), Mohamed Awad (Ismaily).
Defenders: Ahmed Fathy (Al Ahly), Saad Samir (Al Ahly), Ayman Ashraf (Al Ahly), Mahmoud “El Wensh” Hamdy (Zamalek), Mohamed Abdel Shafy (Al Fath), Ahmed Hegazi (West Brom), Ali Gabr (West Brom), Ahmed El Mohamady (Aston Villa), Karim Hafez (RC Lens), Omar Gaber (LAFC), Amro Tarek (Orlando City).
Midfielders: Tarek Hamed (Zamalek), Mahmoud Abdel Aziz (Zamalek), Shikabala (Al Raed), Abdallah El-Said (KuPS), Sam Morsy (Wigan), Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal), Kahraba (Ittihad), Ramadan Sobhi (Stoke City), Trezeguet (Kasimpasa), Amr Warda (Atromitos).
Forwards: Marwan Mohsen (Al Ahly), Ahmed Gomaa (Al Masry) Ahmed “Kouka” Hassan (SC Braga), Mohamed Salah (Liverpool).
The star attraction in the squad, without a doubt, is Mo Salah, who is coming off the back of a stellar season with Liverpool. However, the recent injury he picked up in the UEFA Champions League final has cast a doubt on whether he will be fully fit before the FIFA World Cup kicks off in two weeks’ time.
Egypt will also be reliant on the likes of Aston Villa’s Ahmed El Mohamady, Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Elneny, who was picked despite carrying an ankle injury, and Stoke City’s young and pacy winger Ramadan Sobhi, all of whom have plenty of experience playing in the Premier League along with the West Bromwich Albion defensive duo of Ahmed Hegazi and Ali Gabr.
The 26-year old Omar Gaber is another player who has shown good signs and has the potential to be an important player for the Pharaohs in the competition, while captain and veteran goalkeeper Essam El Hadary is in line to become the oldest player to have featured in the FIFA World Cup, at the age of 45.
The 62-year old Argentine manager took over the reins of the Egyptian national team in March 2015 and has done a great job of reinstating the side as a prominent force in Africa once again, following their debacles between 2012 and 2015.
Cuper masterminded a run to the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations last year, where they lost out to Cameroon and has continued his good work, helping the Pharaohs return to the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1990.
So far during his time with Egypt, Cuper has been at the helm for 33 games, winning 19 of them and losing just 6, at a very good win percentage of 57.58.
The manager is a proponent of the defence-first approach and prefers to play a more direct, counter-attacking style of football. His conservative methods may not win a lot of admirers, but have been getting the job done for Egypt in the past few years.
Cuper has stuck with a 4-2-3-1 setup for most of his stint with the Pharaohs and is very much likely to go in with the same system in Russia. They will once again set out in a compact, defensive manner, relying on Salah’s pace and wizardry to provide the outlet, although his fitness concerns continue to be a troublesome prospect for the team.
In goal, the experienced captain El Hadary is expected to line up between the sticks for Egypt, despite having not started a single game since the win over Congo last October. Another seasoned campaigner, Ahmed Fathy, is likely to take up the right-back slot, while Mohamed Abdel Shafy will take up the opposite side, flanking the central defensive partnership of Hegazi and Ali Gabr.
Cuper has entrusted the midfield duties to Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny, who is expected to be fully fit by the time the World Cup kicks off. He is likely to be partnered by Tarek Hamed in the second pivot position. If fit, Salah will take up the right-flank, with Sobhi likely to be given the nod on the left wing, with Amr Warda providing the backup.
Abdallah El-Said should slot in as the No.10 for the African nation, while the attack is likely to be led by Ahmed Hassan.
Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): El Hadary; Fathy, Hegazi, Gabr, Abdel Shafy; Elneny, Hamed; Salah, Said, Sobhi; Kouka
Egypt have had an exciting journey to make it to the FIFA World Cup, but all their hopes will be riding on Mohamed Salah being fit and ready for the tournament. They do have talented players in their ranks, but given the lack of experience at this level, there is a good chance things could go either way for them, when the competition kicks off in Russia.
However, drawn in a group that contains the two lowest ranked teams in the competition – Russia and Saudi Arabia, one would expect the Pharaohs to make it out of the group stages, although that is as good as it might get for them. Anything further from thereon will be a huge bonus.