Egypt return to World Cup action for the first time since 1990 with a difficult opening Group A fixture against Uruguay, and with the fitness of star man Mohamed Salah still in doubt.
Salah’s participation at the tournament was plunged into uncertainty when he suffered a shoulder injury in a challenge with Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos during Liverpool’s Champions League final defeat last month.
The talismanic forward, who scored 44 goals in all competitions in an incredible debut season at Anfield, has insisted he will be fit for Friday’s clash in Yekaterinburg.
However, head coach Hector Cuper, leading a side at a World Cup for the first time, says there is more to a team that reached the final of last year’s Africa Cup of Nations than just Salah.
“We’re not Mohamed Salah’s national team, this team has many players who cooperate with each other to reach the best results,” Cuper told MBC Masr TV.
“Egypt is lucky that this generation has one of the best players in the world but our tactics don’t solely revolve around him.”
Uruguay’s preparation for the tournament has been comparatively free of drama, and La Celeste coasted to a 3-0 win over Uzbekistan in their warm-up game.
There is pressure on Oscar Tabarez, preparing to coach in a World Cup for the fourth time, and his Uruguay side, who are regarded as favourites for a group also featuring hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Uruguay disappointed in being knocked out in the last 16 in 2014 after reaching the semi-finals in 2010, and despite their favourable group, captain Diego Godin is not looking beyond their opening test.
Speaking on their departure from Montevideo, Godin said: “Although we, like the whole of the Uruguayan people, are dreaming big, the main challenge facing us is winning the game against Egypt; this is what’s most important to us and is what is on our minds.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Egypt – Mohamed Salah
Will he? Won’t he? Egypt’s ability to progress to the knockout rounds largely hinges on the fitness of Salah and, if he does play, there will be severe scrutiny of his performance and whether he looks anything like the same player who took the Premier League and Champions League by storm this past season.
Uruguay – Lucas Torreira
Arsenal are rumoured to be in talks to sign Sampdoria midfielder Torreira, who will be key to both Uruguay’s attacking play and to stopping Egypt.
Torreira only has three caps to his name but, after an impressive season for Samp in which he scored four Serie A goals, will likely be looked upon to break up play in the midfield and dictate things for Uruguay on their forays forward.
KEY OPTA STATS:
– Uruguay are unbeaten against African opposition at the World Cup (W1 D2).
– Egypt are so far winless at the World Cup, drawing two and losing two of their four games. In fact, no African team has played as many games in the competition without winning a single one.
– Uruguay have lost only one of their last eight World Cup group games (W4 D3), against Costa Rica in 2014 (1-3). However, they are winless in their last six opening games (D3 L3), their last victory coming in 1970 (2-0 v Israel).
– Mohamed Salah scored more goals than any other player in 2018 African World Cup qualifying (Third Round), netting five of Egypt’s eight goals overall.
– Luis Suarez has been directly involved in seven of Uruguay’s last 13 goals at the World Cup (5 goals, 2 assists).