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Egypt aim to overturn decades of disappointment
May 23, 2018 | 3:09 PM
by Reuters
Under the guidance of Argentine Hector Cuper Egypt have the ability to go deep in this year's tournament.
 
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EGYPT'S dominance of African football has long been at odds with the country's dire underachievement at the World Cup but the "Pharaohs" head to Russia with the chance of putting right decades of crushing disappointment.

The football-mad country has won the African Nations Cup seven times but has qualified for only two previous World Cups - in 1934 and 1990.

On both occasions Egypt bowed out without winning a game but under the guidance of Argentine Hector Cuper they have the ability to go deep in this year's tournament.

The pace and finishing skills of forward Mohamed Salah are a lethal asset and a group including Uruguay, Saudi Arabia and hosts Russia gives Egypt a good chance of making the knockout stages for the first time.



Egypt are ranked 46th in the world, above Russia and Saudi Arabia, and should finish second in Group A behind Uruguay but will probably face title contenders Spain or Portugal in the last 16.

Cuper's team came through the third round of World Cup qualifying with four wins, a draw and one defeat, using a game plan based on a strong defensive foundation.



The 62-year-old, who twice took Valencia to the Champions League final, has developed a team capable of soaking up pressure and using Salah's pace to launch devastating counter-attacks.

The Argentine's tactics have divided opinion, with many fans craving more attacking adventure, but Egypt's run to last year's African Nations Cup final showed how effective they are at tournaments.

With 44 goals and 16 assists in all competitions for Liverpool this season, Salah is Egypt's talisman and most potent weapon, scoring five of his country's eight goals in the final round of qualifiers.

Behind him Egypt have a mixture of youth and experience.

Cuper can call on Stoke City's Ramadan Sobhi and Mahmoud Hassan, better known as "Trezeguet", both of whom have the ability to trouble defences.

Goalkeeper and captain Essam El Hadary will become the oldest player to play at a World Cup at the age of 45, while West Bromwich Albion centre back Ahmed Hegazi has a strong partnership with Rami Rabia in central defence.

Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Elneny shields the back four, while Abdallah Said, who plays his club football for Al Ahly, offers creativity in midfield.

Trezeguet spoke of Egypt's need for self-belief if they are to progress beyond the group stages.

"We'll need to play each match as if it were a final," he said. "We mustn't fear any team at the World Cup."

Factbox

FIFA ranking: 46 (till June 7)

Previous tournaments

Egypt have appeared in two World Cups -- in 1934 and 1990 -- and have never won a match in the tournament. The Pharaohs became the first African nation to qualify for a World Cup in 1934, but were beaten 4-2 by Hungary in their only game. They finished bottom of their group at the 1990 tournament with two draws and a defeat.

Coach: Hector Cuper

The 62-year-old spent a decade managing clubs in Spain and Italy, including Inter Milan and Valencia, whom he led to two Champions League finals. Cuper was appointed Egypt manager in 2015 and has moulded the team into a strong defensive unit but some fans are keen for their team to display more attacking adventure. Cuper is likely to deploy a flat back four protected by two midfielders in Russia.

Key players

Mohamed Salah:
The forward has enjoyed a stellar season for Liverpool, scoring 44 goals in 51 appearances, leading to comparisons with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Salah, named the PFA and Football Writers' Association player of the year, has scored 33 goals in 57 appearances for Egypt. He was his country's top scorer in World Cup qualifying, with five goals in the third round, including a late penalty in the 2-1 victory over Congo that sealed qualification for the finals in Russia.

Essam El Hadary: Egypt's captain is set to become the oldest player to appear at a World Cup. The 45-year-old shows no signs of slowing down and was instrumental in his team's run to the African Nations Cup final last year, when they were beaten by Cameroon. El Hadary won the first of his more than 150 caps for Egypt in 1996, 10 months before the birth of his international team mate Ramadan Sobhi.

Mohamed Elneny: The midfielder is a squad player at Premier League club Arsenal and his importance to Egypt cannot be overstated. Elneny is the defensive shield in front of Egypt's centre backs. He is still working his way back to full fitness following an ankle injury, but should be ready for the World Cup.

Form guide

Egypt have lost their last two friendlies, against Portugal and Greece, as Cuper looked to experiment. The team, who reached the African Nations Cup final last year, have two wins, a draw and two defeats in their last five matches.

How they qualified: Salah scored a dramatic stoppage-time penalty against Congo to seal qualification for the World Cup with a game to spare. Egypt came through the third round of qualifiers with four wins, one draw and one defeat.

Prospects

Egypt are drawn in Group A with Uruguay, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Uruguay, led by strikers Edison Cavani and Luis Suarez, are favourites to top the group, but Egypt could finish second. If they make it to the last 16, Egypt will play the first or second-placed team from Group B featuring Spain, Portugal, Iran and Morocco, all above Egypt in the FIFA world rankings.

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