‘We are not reliant on Salah,’ claims Egypt coach Cuper
‘We are not reliant on Salah,’ claims Egypt coach Cuper
Egypt have gathered in Cairo for the first time since Oct. 8, when they qualified for the World Cup with a game to spare after beating Republic of Congo 2-1 to top Africa Group E. They face Ghana in their last qualifier on Sunday.
Yet, despite the long-awaited qualification, Cuper has been widely criticized in Egypt for his cautious tactics and dependence on Salah. Some in the local media have mockingly dubbed the Argentine’s strategy to be “Pass it to Salah,” and others have gone so far as to say he should be fired.
Egyptian football officials side with Cuper, the coach since 2015, and have pledged to keep him through to the World Cup in Russia next year.
Cuper answered the criticism at a packed news conference at Cairo’s 100,000-seat stadium, before the national squad trained, and said: “The team may have the potential to perform better, and we could have changed our tactics, but we may also not have been going to Russia as we are now.
“In football, not everyone can agree on a single set of tactics. Sometimes, even realizing all the set objectives is not enough for the sport’s officials. It’s natural.
“Sometimes, I myself make a wrong assessment and it’s possible that Egypt could have qualified for the World Cup with a different coach. My abilities may have their limitations, and with another coach you could have played better, braver, and attacked more.”
In response to criticism that he has relied heavily on overseas-based players, Cuper said he’s tried 50 players during his two-and-a-half-year tenure, and he and his staff have tirelessly watched domestic games with a view to recruiting new talent.
But he cautioned that bringing in new faces won’t be easy at this stage.
“We watch and we analyze to see who is better and more suitable,” he said. “The players already in the squad know their places are not guaranteed. Even my job is not guaranteed.”
The priority, he said, for the Ghana match will be to give game-time to peripheral players already in the squad. Cuper defended leaving Salah out of the clash, saying the striker was “very exhausted, both physically and emotionally” when he was last on international duty. He, instead, called up striker Mahmoud Abdel-Razeq, better known by his nickname Sheekabala, for the first time since 2014. Sheekabala has been in impressive form for Saudi club Al Raed.
“He has developed in a big way recently and he could get to play against Ghana,” Cuper said.
Aussie ace Matt Jurman says Slaven Bilic will get Al-Ittihad ‘back where they belong’
- Al-Ittihad defender Matt Jurman has backed Slaven Bilic to turn things around for the club
- A disastrous start to the season has left Al-Ittihad rock bottom of the Saudi Pro League table
KUWAIT CITY: Al-Ittihad defender Matt Jurman has backed Slaven Bilic to turn things around for the club, predicting his new coach can inject some much-needed confidence into the team.
A disastrous start to the season has left Al-Ittihad rock bottom of the Saudi Pro League table with one draw and four losses from their opening five games.
Ramon Diaz was sacked as coach after just two matches, with Bilic (below) parachuted in three weeks ago to replace the Argentine.
The first game of his reign ended in defeat away to Al-Fateh and on Friday they drew 1-1 at home with Ohod, but Australian Jurman, who moved to Al-Ittihad from Suwon Bluewings in the summer, believes it is only a matter of time before Bilic transforms the club’s fortunes.
“It’s not a situation I’ve seen before, a coach being sacked after only two games,” Jurman told Arab News. “It shows that it is cut-throat here but the players and coaches have to respond positively to that pressure.
“A club the size of Al-Ittihad has to be winning games and I think that Bilic and his coaching staff will take us in the right direction. It’s mentally tough when you keep losing, but we have great players in the team and we know we should be higher than where we are.
“We just need more belief and I certainly feel the new coach will give us that. Then I’m sure we’ll shoot up the table.”
On a personal level, Jurman now has the opportunity to work with a coach who enjoyed a distinguished career playing in his position. An uncompromising center-back, Bilic reached the World Cup semifinals with Croatia in 1998 and also played in the Premier League with Everton and West Ham.
“He’s right up there with the best coaches in the league and of course was a great player,” Jurman said. “Obviously he played in my position so I’m excited to learn from him and I’m sure he can help make me a better player.
“It’s been a difficult start to the season but now we can look forward and I’m sure that the new coach and his staff are going to get us back on track.”
Jurman made a bold career move by deciding to swap Suwon Bluewings for Al-Ittihad in July after a successful 18-month stint in South Korea.
But despite the tough introduction to life in Saudi football, the Australia international insisted he has no regrets.
“It’s been a big change coming to Saudi Arabia. Training at night, the temperatures we’re playing in every week — these things take time to get used to. But it’s a great opportunity to experience a culture I’ve never seen before.
“It would have been easy to stay in Korea but when you get a call saying one of the biggest clubs in the Middle East are interested in you, it’s a no-brainer. I was told about the Pro League expansion, how they wanted more foreigners on each team.
“I knew I was going to play against quality players, quality strikers — I wanted to come and test myself.”
As well as enjoying the challenge on the pitch, Jurman has been particularly impressed by the fans off it, playing in front of some huge crowds at King Abdullah Sports City.
“Al-Ittihad is such a big club and even at our away games, our fans usually outnumber the home team. Seeing that type of support is fantastic. The fans are crazy, the best supporters I’ve seen.
“It seems you can’t go anywhere in Jeddah without finding an Al-Ittihad fan and that’s been eye-opening, to see just how much they love football in Saudi Arabia.”
Jurman was not the only Australian to arrive in Saudi Arabia this summer, with Socceroos goalkeeper Brad Jones moving to Al-Nassr from Feyenoord.
And after fellow Aussie Mark Milligan’s summer departure from Al-Ahli, Jurman has been grateful to have another compatriot to speak to.
“I chatted to Mark after our last game in Russia at the World Cup and he helped me make up my mind to move here. He was living in Jeddah too so it was a real shame that he left soon after. The new coach came in there and that’s how it works sometimes in football.
“Now Brad is here too and that’s been great. We’re always chatting on WhatsApp, talking about life and how we’re settling in. It’s always good to have that kind of support.
“Unfortunately for me, Brad’s team is flying at the moment. But I’m sure that before long we’ll turn things round at Al-Ittihad and then we can both be up there.”