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
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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.

HOW THEY GOT THERE
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.

MANAGER
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.

TACTICS
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.

KEY MAN
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.

WORLD CUP HISTORY
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.

STRENGTHS
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.

WEAKNESSES
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.


Arsenal open US tour with 3-0 friendly win in Colorado

Updated 16 July 2019
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Arsenal open US tour with 3-0 friendly win in Colorado

LOS ANGELES: Brazilian Gabriel Martinelli scored in his Arsenal debut Monday as the English Premier League club launched their pre-season tour of the US with a 3-0 friendly win over the Colorado Rapids.

Bukayo Saka and James Olayinka also scored for the Gunners, who cruised to victory at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in suburban Denver.

Martinelli, the 18-year-old forward signed from Ituano on July 2, was given a surprise start in attack by Unai Emery and sent an early chance wide.

Saka, 17, was an energetic presence and put Arsenal up 1-0 in the 13th minute as he collected a through-ball from Eddie Nketiah.

Another teenager — 18-year-old Olayinka —  doubled the score in the 29th, seizing a stray pass from defense and racing in to fire into the top left corner of the net.

Martinelli, having missed his early chance, capped the scoring in the 61st when he slotted home a cross from close range.

The Rapids, in the midst of the Major League Soccer season, fielded a mostly reserve side that featured several players from the lower-rung Colorado Springs Switchbacks.

Arsenal, too, started a reserve team as they begin their build up to the Premier League season after again failing to secure a Champions League berth.

The tour has not started without controversy. Captain Laurent Koscielny refused to travel to the US, and a group of influential Arsenal supporters’ organizations published a statement on Monday hitting out at Stan Kroenke’s “passive ownership.”

Under a hashtag “WeCareDo You” the statement decried a “soulless” atmosphere at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium and a lack of transfer strategy.

Kroenke, who began investing in the club in 2007 through his company Kroenke Sports Enterprises and took full ownership in 2018, also owns the Rapids as well as the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams.