TEAM PROFILE: Egypt out to prove they’re about more than just Mohamed Salah

Egypt's forward Mohamed Salah takes part in a training session of Egypt's national football team at the Akhmat Arena stadium in Grozny on June 11, 2018, ahead of the Russia 2018 World Cup. (File photo: AFP)
Updated 12 June 2018

TEAM PROFILE: Egypt out to prove they’re about more than just Mohamed Salah

  • Hector Cuper has the Pharaohs set up very defensively.
  • Side will look to sit back, not concede and attack on the break.

Thanks to Mohamed Salah’s shoulder Egypt head into the World Cup as one of the most covered teams — a novelty, not least because this is their first time at the tournament since 1990.

Salah scored a dramatic stoppage-time penalty against Congo to seal the Pharaohs’ passage to Russia with a match to spare. Egypt came through the their group with four wins, a draw and just the solitary defeat to Uganda. It was one of the easier groups and with Salah on top form qualification was always likely.

Hector Cuper is well traveled, the Argentine spent a decade managing clubs in Spain and Italy, including spells at Inter Milan and Valencia, whom he led to two Champions League finals. He has a great pedigree and has been Egypt boss since 2015, since when he has molded the side in much the same way as he did his club sides, very defensive and solid with little room for expression or flair. This has led to some criticism, with fans wanting to see a more attacking setup. As if to emphasize his outlook, despite the optimistic fitness reports concerning Salah, Cuper has been at pains to stress the side has to remember it is a team game and not to rely on Salah.

Can be summed up in one word: Defensive. In his first 32 matches as Pharaohs coach the side only conceded 18 goals and until last week’s 3-0 reverse to Belgium had not lost by more than one goal. The defensive mindset has been instilled into the squad with the side having two holding midfielders, Mohamed 
Elneny and Tarek Hamed, in a 
4-2-3-1 formation. Both those players will sit deep and rarely make bursting runs through the middle, it is a safety-first policy that has worked so far, and which Cuper will stick with. Elneny’s importance to Egypt cannot be overstated. He has improved during his time at Arsenal and his defensive duties are as key to the side’s chances of success as Salah’s shooting boots.

At the risk of being accused of predictability, we have to go with Salah. Such is the side’s defensive setup, they do rely a lot on the Liverpool ace’s attacking flair and goals. As if to illustrate his importance to the side, the 25-year-old had a hand in all seven of Egypt’s goals in qualification — scoring five and setting up the other two. There is still doubt over just how much of the group stage he will play in. Egypt’s first clash in Group A comes on Friday against Uruguay, a starting spot for that match may still be unlikely, the next few days will reveal more. But while it is possibly 
going too far to say they are a one-man team, Egypt do need a fit and firing Salah.

Egypt have appeared in two World Cups, 1934 and 1990, and are yet to register a win. They were the first African nation to qualify for the tournament, but were beaten 4-2 by Hungary in their own match at the 1934 showpiece. They finished bottom of their group at the 1990 tournament with two draws and a defeat.

They are hard to break down and will not concede many goals in Russia. In Salah they have a genuine world-beater, if they can maintain that dogged defence and get Salah fit and firing then they will prove a tough test for any team. There is hope back home that not only can they get out of the group for the first time, but also possibly make the last eight.

Their strength could also prove to be a weakness. If Salah is not fit it is hard to see them scoring, which will put a lot of pressure on the backline.

‘My feelings? Mixed’: Sebastian Vettel clings on in desperate Lewis Hamilton pursuit as Kimi Raikonnen wins US Grand Prix

Updated 22 October 2018

‘My feelings? Mixed’: Sebastian Vettel clings on in desperate Lewis Hamilton pursuit as Kimi Raikonnen wins US Grand Prix

AUSTIN: Sebastian Vettel said he felt mixed emotions after keeping his slender title challenge alive by finishing fourth in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix, won by Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
The four-time champion, who started fifth on the grid after taking a three-place penalty, recovered from an opening lap spin to fight through the field in a tactical contest that left Lewis Hamilton frustrated in his bid to clinch his fifth drivers world title.
“My feelings? Mixed,” he said. “Happy. Really happy for Kimi. But not much for me. It should have been a better day.”
Vettel can only stop Hamilton taking his fifth drivers title next weekend in Mexico by winning the race and hoping Hamilton hits problems that keep him out of the top seven places.
He said he suffered a major blow when he clashed with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo on the opening lap.
“I must have been in his blind spot. I’m not sure he saw me. The corner kept tightening and we hit. It was a big loss for me.”
Vettel’s disappointment took nothing away from a resurgent Ferrari’s satisfaction in recovering their mid-season pace, after abandoning several recent upgrades, and claiming a revitalising victory.
“I am very proud of them all,” said Ferrari team chief Maurizio Arrivabene.
“I was always proud of the guys and even more when we are winning races. It’s been hard for us recently and we had a race engineer pass away last weekend.... I have nothing more to add. It was great today. Thank you USA!“
Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff admitted that Ferrari had been faster than his team, as he had feared.
“We lacked the pace and I said don’t close it too early. They are very fast. Kimi winning is great for him and for Ferrari, so let’s go to the next race in Mexico now.
“It was difficult to overtake, but for us it was a strategy that got worse as it progressed. We need to re-think and see what we can do better. We put on a good show altogether and that’s what’s more important.”