After 28 years away, the Pharaohs are back on the FIFA World Cup™ stage. And they make their return in a tight section that also features Russia, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay.
The Uruguayans provide a stern test for Egypt in their first match of the tournament at the Ekaterinburg Arena, in northeastern Russia.
Absent from the last six world finals, the Pharaohs are carrying the hopes of millions of fans back home, though their long spell in the wilderness could yet prove a handicap in their quest to reach the knockout phase at Russia 2018.
The north Africans are hopeful they can confound the doubters, however, even with all the uncertainty surrounding Mohamed Salah and his race to be fit in time for the meeting with Uruguay. As their coach Hector Cuper has made a habit of pointing out, they are a well-drilled, tight-knit unit.
The Argentinian also had words of praise for the Liverpool star: “Egypt are lucky to have one of the best players in the world in their ranks. Mohamed Salah is the Egyptian Messi, but we can’t just rely on him.”
With or without Salah, Egypt have a pool of talented players at their disposal, as they showed in the African qualifiers, where they excelled themselves to book the nation’s place at the world finals with a game to spare.
“I understand that the supporters sometimes have other expectations,” said Cuper when asked about his team. “Salah is the star but it’s possible that a goalkeeper or a defender will come to the rescue. And then there are the midfielders, who do a lot of running for the team.”
The experienced Argentinian coach, who has more than one trick up his sleeve, is clearly motivated by the challenge ahead and now sees himself as just another Egyptian, singing the national anthem before every match.
“Even against Argentina I want to win,” he added. “I’ve been working here for three and a half years and I’ve become Egyptian. I want to lead the national team to victory.”