MOSCOW, June 15, 2018 – About three weeks ago, it looked as though Egypt’s chance of a good outing at the FIFA World Cup 2018 hung in the balance. Their star player, Mohamed Salah, was in tears following a shoulder ligament injury he sustained during Liverpool’s Champions League final defeat by Real Madrid on 26 May. His World Cup hopes dangled before his eyes. But the Egyptian Football Association kept the faith and that seems to be paying off.
Hope for Salah – According to the coach of the side, Hector Cuper, Salah, whose 26th birthday is today, has recovered “very, very quickly” and is fit to play the Pharaohs’ opening match against two-time world champions Uruguay this afternoon.
He said: “I can almost assure you 100% he will play, save unforeseen circumstances at the very last minute. He could become the top goalscorer here and one of the greatest players.
“We’re trying to make him feel confident. The doctors are giving him the option to play or not, but I know Salah very well and I’m sure he’s not afraid, he’s not fearful.”
It has been largely perceived that Egypt will find it easier navigating their way out of the group stage than any other African nation in Russia but a date with Uruguay seems like a difficult place to start.
Since Hector Cuper took charge of the team in March 2015, they have gone on to finish second at the Africa Cup of Nations in 2017 before qualifying for the World Cup after a 28-year-absence. Salah, who netted a remarkable 71 per cent of the Pharaohs’ goals in Russia 2018 qualifying, was named CAF Player of the Year in January.
Difficult group – However the results of the warm-up matches they played are anything but encouraging; three losses and two draws. They are known for their defensive solidity with the centre back pairing of West Bromwich Albion’s Ali Gabr and Ahmed Hegazi at the heart of it, but can they curtail a Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani attack?
“I think Egypt are in a difficult group and the arrangement of our matches in Group A is not comfortable at all,” Ahmed El Nefily, an Egyptian journalist with beIN Sports told AIPS.
He added: “Egypt will start against Uruguay one of the best teams in South America and we will face two of the best strikers in the world, Cavani and Suarez. And that as the first test for Egypt will be very difficult.
El Nefily also explained that their second game against Russia will be as difficult as the first because the hosts, having beaten Saudi Arabia 5-0 in the opening match of the tournament, will be looking to seal a place in the next round before their final group game against the dreaded Uruguay.
“But if Egypt collect one point from Uruguay they may be in a good position to qualify for second round,” he said.
Historical moment – El Nefily described the moment of their 2018 World Cup qualification as a historical one. He remembered being in the stadium as a young boy when they qualified for the 1990 edition. But he was a little bit sad that “the strongest team in Africa that claimed three consecutive Africa Cup of Nations titles didn’t get the chance to go to the World Cup.”
He continued: “They were the best team in Egyptian football history and I think if they had the chance to go to the World Cup, maybe in 2010, they could have reached the quarter-finals or more.”
Age is just a number – It will definitely be an upset if Egypt go on to beat Uruguay today but that moment when their Goalkeeper and captain Essam El Hadary becomes the oldest player in World Cup history (45 years and 151 days) cannot be missed.
El Hadary who says “age is just a number” will break the record set in 2014 by 43-year-old Colombian Faryd Mondragon.
In his article on The Players’ Tribune, El Hadary asked his good friend Gianluigi Buffon why he retired so early.
“I know you have won the World Cup and all that… But you still miss the Champions League, right? Well, look at yourself — you’re still young!
“Or look at it this way: If you are feeling too old for this game, how do you think I feel?
“I’m only joking, of course. But I’m also kind of serious. Because when I imagine what my career would have looked like if had I retired at your age, well, I shiver at the thought. You see, almost from the moment I could walk, I have been chasing a dream — to play in the World Cup with Egypt. For a long time it looked like it wouldn’t happen.
“But this year, we’ll be going. And I’ll be our goalkeeper. At the age of 45.”