Egypt holds its breath over injured Mohamed Salah

Mohamed Salah took part in training at the Akhmat Arena stadium in Grozny on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 14 June 2018
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Egypt holds its breath over injured Mohamed Salah

  • Egyptian superstar is nursing an injured shoulder
  • 'There’s a good degree of progress,' said team director

Yekaterinburg, RUSSIA: Mohamed Salah is in a high-profile race to be fit for Egypt’s World Cup opener against Uruguay on Friday and even opponents are hoping the Liverpool ace could yet play a role in Russia.
The striker and Egyptian superstar, who is nursing an injured shoulder, is crucial to the north African side’s hopes of making it out of a weak-looking Group A also featuring the hosts and Saudi Arabia.
Egypt play Uruguay — tipped by some to be dark horses — in Yekaterinburg in just the second game of the tournament, following Russia against Saudi Arabia in the opening match.
Salah, who turns 26 on the day of the game, gave 100 million frantic Egyptians a massive boost on Wednesday when he joined a squad training session at their Grozny base.
He had been sidelined since suffering a shoulder injury in Liverpool’s Champions League final loss to Real Madrid on May 26, casting severe doubt on his World Cup participation.
He went through a range of warm-up exercises with his team-mates, but Egyptian team officials are giving little away.
“There’s a good degree of progress but no definitive decision on whether he takes part, as we are following his case day by day,” team director Ihab Lahita told reporters.
Egypt’s 62-year-old Argentine coach Hector Cuper will conduct a pre-match press conference on Thursday, but there are suggestions that he wants to see Salah train again before making any decision on whether the player is fit to face a Uruguay side boasting the twin attacking threat of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani.
The most likely outcome is that Salah, one of the outstanding players in the world this season as he helped propel Liverpool to the Champions League final, will be on the bench on Friday.
Salah’s World Cup dream was left on the brink when he exited the final in tears after Real Madrid skipper Sergio Ramos wrestled him to the ground.
Cuper has attempted to dismiss the notion that Egypt are a one-man side, but with 44 goals in all competitions this season for Liverpool, Salah’s badly timed injury has become a national obsession back home.
Salah is regarded as a contender for the Ballon d’Or for his spectacular debut season at Anfield, alongside Argentina’s Lionel Messi, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar of Brazil.
The tournament in Russia will be the poorer for Salah missing out and Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera has expressed hope that Salah will play against the South Americans.
“I like the best players to play, I train with the best and I want the best players to play,” said Muslera.
Egypt, a no-frills side who play on the counterattack under the wily Cuper, face hosts Russia on Tuesday and the Saudi Arabia on June 25 in their last group game.


'We want to make Saudi Arabia proud': Pizzi promises better showing against Egypt

Updated 21 June 2018
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'We want to make Saudi Arabia proud': Pizzi promises better showing against Egypt

  • Saudi Arabia cannot progress from Group A even if they defeat Egypt in their final game on Monday
  • Wednesday’s overall performance was much improved, yet a lack of penetrative passing was obvious

ROSTOV-ON-DON: “Keeping possession of the ball seems to be the absolute and most important thing, but then when you sometimes find issues in getting the ball into your opponent’s half, you have to find other movements and ways of doing that,” said Oscar Tabarez after watching his lackluster Uruguay rely on a solitary Luis Suarez goal to eliminate Saudi Arabia from the World Cup. 
Tabarez was talking about his own team’s struggles, yet the assessment is considerably more applicable to the Green Falcons, who dominated possession and retained the ball with ease in midfield, yet for the second match running looked absolutely bereft of ideas in the final third. With Uruguay and Russia now on six points, Saudi Arabia cannot progress from Group A even if they defeat Egypt in their final game on Monday.
The Green Falcons coach Juan Antonio Pizzi confirmed he intends to stay at the helm of the side for the long-haul, yet is only too aware that the potential of this team is being hamstrung by its inability to score. He called it “our weakness”, adding that his side enjoyed “good ball possession, but no effectiveness”. They, he said, did not have the sufficient “weapons or tools” to equalize.
Pizzi’s side have found the net now just twice in their past five games and against Uruguay managed only three shots on target in 90 minutes — two of which came in added time and were so tame they would hardly have troubled the opposition goalkeeper Fernando Muslera had he been relaxing at his far post sipping a drink. In the 5-0 defeat to Russia last week, they failed to muster a single shot on target. 
Wednesday’s overall performance was much improved, yet a lack of penetrative passing was obvious. One passage of play in the opening exchanges saw Saudi Arabia complete 16 passes untroubled without the ball entering the opposition penalty box. When Uruguay finally won possession, they required only four quick exchanges to find Edinson Cavani on the left wing drilling the ball across the front of goal. 
“I don’t share that assessment,” said Pizzi, when it was put to him that his team was too slow to attack. “We played at the speed that was necessary. We need to be accurate, but if you step up the speed you lose accuracy with your passes. We had control of the game and that was why.”
Striker Mohammed Al-Sahlawi had been the focal point of much criticism from Turki Al-Sheikh, the head of Saudi’s General Sports Authority, after the Russia “fiasco” and was dropped from the side against Uruguay. So too was goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf, another who Al-Sheikh name-checked as having been at fault.
Pizzi, asked whether the scathing assessment from his bosses had forced his hand when it came to team selection, calmly dismissed the suggestion. He also ruled out the notion that administrative issues between the players and the country’s football federation had caused unrest in his squad.
“I have a list of 23 players here and they are all available to play. We are here together and pushing in the same direction. 
“I wanted — and still want — to make the Saudi Arabian people feel proud of our energy and the desire we show in matches. Unfortunately we were unable to do that against Russia and will be playing our next match without any hope of progressing. I hope now they will feel a little more proud even though we are out of the World Cup,” he said.