CHIBUOGWU NNADIEGBULAM / AIPS: Three weeks ago, it looked as though Egypt’s chance of a good outing at the FIFA World Cup 2018 hung in the balance.
Mohamed Salah was in tears after a shoulder ligament injury suffered during Liverpool’s Champions League final defeat by Real Madrid on May 26.
But the Egyptian Football Association kept the faith and that seems to be paying off though, as a precaution, the 26-year-old will start on the substitutes’ bench for the Pharaohs’ opening match against two-time world champions Uruguay.
Coach Hector Cuper said: “I can almost assure you 100pc he will be fit to 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.”
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 a difficult place to start.
Since Cuper took charge in March 2015, Egypt have finished 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 71pc of the Pharaohs’ goals in qualifying, was named CAF Player of the Year in January.
However the results of the warm-up matches they played are anything but encouraging; three losses and two draws. Egypt are known for 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 contain Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani?
Ahmed El Nefily, an Egyptian journalist with beIN Sports told AIPS: “The first test for Egypt will be very difficult . . . but, if Egypt collect one point from Uruguay, they may be in a good position to qualify for second round.”
Goalkeeper and captain Essam El Hadary should make history today in becoming the oldest player in World Cup history at 45 years and 151 days..
El Hadary who says “age is just a number” will break a record set in 2014 by 43-year-old Colombian Faryd Mondragon.
In his article on The Players’ Tribune, El Hadary asked Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon why he retired so early, saying: “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.”