MX23RW : Thursday, August 16 16:09:47

World Cup preview: Egypt

Ahead of this summer's World Cup in Russia, Sports Mole looks at Egypt's chances as they gear up for their first taste of the competition for 28 years.

Egypt boast the record of being the most successful African team of all time, having been crowned champions of their continent on an unprecedented seven occasions, but success on the world stage has been much rarer.

This summer's World Cup in Russia will be just the third to be graced by the Egyptian side, with their only other appearances at the tournament coming in 1934 and 1990.

The Egyptian team lines up ahead of their international friendly with Kuwait in May 2018© Reuters

The beaten Africa Cup of Nations finalists appear to be on their way back up, though, having failed to qualify for the last three editions of that tournament prior to their second-place finish last year.

Here, Sports Mole looks ahead to how the Pharaohs may fare in Russia.


GROUP

Egypt's hopes of reaching the knockout stages of this summer's tournament will have been raised ever-so slightly when the groups were drawn, having been put up against Russia, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay in Group A.

World Cup Group A

Uruguay will be the favourites to top the group, but behind them it is likely to be an intriguing battle, with Russia boasting the home advantage and Saudi Arabia having beaten Australia to an automatic qualifying place for this summer's tournament.

Egypt's toughest game on paper will come first, and if they can get their tournament off to a positive start then it would set them up nicely for their final two group games.

EGYPT FIXTURES

June 15: Egypt vs. Uruguay (1pm, Central Stadium, Yekaterinburg)
June 19: Russia vs. Egypt (7pm, Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg)
June 25: Saudi Arabia vs. Egypt (3pm, Volgograd Arena, Volgograd)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

Egypt booked their place on the plane with a game to spare in their African qualification campaign, with Liverpool's Mohamed Salah scoring a brace to fire his side to a dramatic victory over Congo.

Congo had equalised in the 88th minute of that match, but an even later winner from Salah put Egypt out of reach of the chasing pack, eventually finishing four points clear of second-placed Uganda in Group E of qualifying.

Egypt's Mohamed Salah celebrates with fans after scoring the goal which took his side to the 2018 World Cup© Reuters

The Pharaohs had earlier overcome Chad to reach the group stage, where they won four and lost just one of their six matches against Uganda, Ghana and Congo to end their World Cup hoodoo.

However, Egypt were the lowest scorers of any African team to have reached the tournament, netting only eight goals in those six outings.


RECENT FORM

With or without key man Salah, the seven-time Africa Cup of Nations champions have struggled to find some momentum in their pre-World Cup friendlies.

Since qualifying for the quadrennial competition with that victory over Congo in October, Egypt have since played five friendlies and failed to win any of them.

Belgium winger Eden Hazard in action during his side's World Cup warm-up match against Egypt in June 2018© Reuters

Salah featured in just one of those matches, though, netting in a 2-1 loss to Portugal in March, which was followed up by a 1-0 defeat at the hands of a resilient Greece side in Zurich.

The Pharaohs have more recently drawn 1-1 with Kuwait and 0-0 with Colombia, before going down 3-0 to Belgium in their final friendly before getting their finals campaign up and running.

An inspired first-half display from Belgium in Brussels saw them effectively pick up the win before the interval, with Egypt lacking any real cutting edge in the final third - a real worry if they do not get Salah back to full fitness.


SQUAD

Egypt World Cup squad

Goalkeepers: Essam El Hadary (Al Taawoun), Mohamed El-Shennawy (Al Ahly), Sherif Ekramy (Al Ahly).

Defenders: Ahmed Fathi, Saad Samir, Ayman Ashraf (all Al Ahly), Mahmoud Hamdy (Zamalek), Mohamed Abdel-Shafy (Al Fateh), Ahmed Hegazi (West Brom), Ali Gabr (Zamalek), Ahmed Elmohamady (Aston Villa), Omar Gaber (Los Angeles FC).

Midfielders: Tarek Hamed, (Zamalek), Shikabala (Zamalek), Abdallah Said (Al Ahli), Sam Morsy (Wigan Athletic), Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal), Mahmoud Kahraba (Al Ittihad), Ramadan Sobhi (Stoke City), Mahmoud Hassan (Kasimpasa), Amr Warda (Atromitos Athens).

Forwards: Marwan Mohsen (Al Ahly), Mohamed Salah (Liverpool).


STAR PLAYER - Mohamed Salah

Mohamed Salah in action for Egypt during a World Cup qualifying match with Congo in October 2017© Reuters

No other side in the tournament, not even Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina with Lionel Messi, will be more reliant on one player than Egypt.

Salah scored the goal that sent his nation to the finals, and that was very much the icing on the cake at the end of an impressive personal and collective qualifying campaign.

In fact, the Liverpool forwarded netted 71% of Egypt's goals on the Road to Russia, including in each of their third-round victories.

The shoulder injury sustained against Real Madrid three weeks before the start of the competition left a whole country holding its breath, though the Premier League's top scorer appears likely to start at least two of Egypt's three group-stage matches.

As their final pre-World Cup friendly went to show, the Pharaohs struggle for creativity when without their talismanic forward, and now all focus will be on getting Salah back to full speed ahead of the key showdown against Russia on June 19 - if not sooner.


MANAGER - Hector Cuper

Egypt manager Hector Cuper on May 25, 2018© Reuters

Egypt boss Hector Cuper was one of the most sought-after coaches in European football around the turn of the century after steering Valencia to back-to-back Champions League finals - both of which they lost.

A similarly frustrating spell followed at Inter Milan as he again narrowly missed out on silverware before being sacked in 2003, and his career has been on a slow decline ever since - taking in spells at Mallorca, Real Betis and Parma along the way.

Things have been looking up since being appointed as Egypt manager in 2015, though, so far boasting his best-ever win percentage from any of his previous jobs with the Pharaohs.

Cuper steered Egypt into the final of the Africa Cup of Nations in 2017 but, as has been the case for much of his managerial career, his side fell at the last hurdle.

In his playing days Cuper was a centre-back who spent the bulk of his career with Ferro Carril Oeste, earning three caps for Argentina in 1984.


WORLD CUP RECORD

Best finish: First round/group stage (1934, 1990)

Egypt in action against England at the 1990 World Cup© Reuters

Egypt's World Cup record is in stark contrast to their performances in other tournaments such as the Africa Cup of Nations, and they will travel to Russia looking for their first ever victory in the biggest competition of them all.

It will be Egypt's first taste of a World Cup in 28 years, and only their second since 1934, but in both previous experiences of the tournament they have left winless and been knocked out in the first round.

The Pharaohs lost their solitary match in 1934, going down 4-2 at the hands of Uruguay, and in 1990 they managed only two draws and one defeat en route to a group-stage exit having been drawn alongside England, Republic of Ireland and Netherlands.


PREDICTION

Egypt's chances rely so heavily on the fitness of Salah that it is difficult to make an accurate prediction, but if he features in two games as expected then they should have enough to progress from the group stages.

The Pharaohs may have to make do with second place behind Uruguay, but either way they are likely to face a difficult last-16 tie against either Spain or Portugal which could spell the end of their run.

VERDICT: Last 16

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How far will Egypt go at this summer's World Cup?

Group Stages
Last 16
Quarter-finals
Semi-finals
Runners-up
Winners
Group Stages
50.0%
Last 16
37.5%
Quarter-finals
12.5%
Semi-finals
0.0%
Runners-up
0.0%
Winners
0.0%
Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah in action during the Premier League clash with Brighton on May 13, 2018
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