Egypt’s World Cup 2018 qualifying journey had a climax like no other. Having not qualified for a World Cup since 1990, their 27 year wait was finally ended by a left-footed strike from the penalty spot by the ‘Egyptian King’ himself, Mo Salah. Salah’s goal meant Egypt topped their group ahead of Uganda, Ghana and Congo, and the celebrations that followed sent the country into a frenzy. If there was anyone who was not happy that Egypt had qualified, it was probably coach Héctor Cúper’s doctor. Cúper was already on medication for high-blood pressure due to stress before Salah tucked away the penalty in the final minute of added time.
Failure to qualify for the World Cup since 1990 has been a “source of national shame”, since Egypt have been the dominant team in the African Cup of Nations for most of the last decade. Having been crowned champions of Africa a record seven times, the unrest in the country contributed to the national team suffering performance-wise in recent years. However, a resurgence seems to be here, spearheaded by Liverpool’s Salah. After such a long wait to return to the World Cup finals, the Egyptian team will not want to let their country down, and I fully expect them to give their all in an attempt to make it out of the group.
- Mohammed Salah (Liverpool) – Mo Salah has had an outstanding season for his new club Liverpool, and was instrumental in securing World Cup qualification for his country. Lightning fast and one of the most technically gifted and skilled dribblers I have seen, Salah can ruthlessly punish opposition if he is given an inch of space. In fact, even if he isn’t given that inch, he will find it for himself. Although he has had a demanding season with Liverpool, if he can keep himself fully fit, he can be the focal point of Egypt’s attack, and most definitely has the skill and talent to open up Russia and Saudi Arabia’s unsteady defences.
- Essam El-Hadary (Al-Taawoun) – Egypt’s goalkeeper and captain, El-Hadary has represented his country over 150 times, the fourth most-capped international goalkeeper. If selected in the finals this summer, at 45 years old, he will become the oldest player in World Cup history. World Cup qualification means everything to him, as it is the one thing missing from his illustrious international career. With Salah leading from the front, El-Hadary will need to lead from the back, and ensure his defence remain stalwart and focused, especially if they are to have a chance at keeping out Uruguay’s Luis Suarez.
Héctor Cúper – Cúper’s favoured conservative playing style has often been criticised by fans, however it cannot be denied that it has achieved the desired results. Focusing on soaking up pressure defensively and then hitting teams on the counter-attack, Cúper has perhaps the most dangerous counter-attacking player at his disposal in Mo Salah, who can be the key player for him.