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Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Preview: Egypt kick off World Cup preparations with high-profile Portugal friendly

Omar Zaazou , Friday 23 Mar 2018
Egypt’s Mohamed Salah in action with Congo's Tobias Badila during their 2018 World Cup Qualification match at the Borg El Arab Stadium, Alexandria, Egypt on October 8, 2017. (Photo: Reuters)
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Views: 3213

Egypt will be playing their most high-profile friendly game against 2016 Euro champions Portugal at the Stadion Letzigrund in Zürich on Friday, as both nations prepare for the World Cup finals in Russia.

Kicking off their preparations less than three months ahead of the World Cup, the Pharaohs will be facing Cristiano Ronaldo and co., in what will be the first of five friendlies ahead of the quadrennial tournament.

Egypt will be facing Greece in the Swiss city four days later, before playing Kuwait, Colombia and Belgium in their final training camp just prior to the Russia finals.

The seven-time African champions, who finally managed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 28 years, will be vying in Group A alongside hosts Russia, Uruguay and Saudi Arabia.

Portugal, on the other side, will play in a crunch Group B featuring neighbors Spain, Morocco and Iran.

Given that the March camp is Egypt’s first in nearly four months since they last faced Ghana in the World Cup qualifiers in November last year, manager Hector Cuper will be confronted with numerous questions this time around.

With few expecting the ex-Valencia boss to introduce big changes to his starting XI which helped him qualify for the World Cup and finish runners-up to Cup of Nations’ winners Cameroon last year, how far his players still retain their form remains to be seen.

Gabr, El-Said form questionable

Most notably Zamalek center-back Ali Gabr, on a six-month loan to West Bromwich, and playmaker Abdallah El-Said - who had been making headlines for the wrong reasons during the past period.

Since his move to the English Premier League, towering defender Gabr has barely featured a single minute for strugglers West Brom - who look destined to relegation this season.

Chief playmaker El-Said, meanwhile, has been at the middle of a contractual controversy of late after signing for Zamalek before moving to renew his contract with Ahly afterwards.

Whether Gabr - who had been outstanding for Egypt alongside fellow center-back Ahmed Hegazi in Gabon - still retains his form amid lack of first-team football remains to be seen, with El-Said’s concentration levels set to be tested against Portugal.

Mohsen fit?

With Cuper usually favoring a targetman upfront, as Liverpool star Mohamed Salah has been mostly preferred on the wing, whether the fit-again Marwan Mohsen would be able to impress upfront is another question.

The Ahly striker has been out for nearly a year with a cruciate ligament injury that he sustained in the Nations’ Cup finals and has only recently returned to action for the league champions.

The ex-Ismaily frontman marked his comeback from injury with a goal against Dakhleya in a 3-0 league win before scoring again against Gabonese side Mounana in a 4-0 Champions League home win.

Whether finding the net twice recently means that Mohsen is eligible to lead Egypt’s attack remains to be seen, with Sporting Braga striker Ahmed Hassan Kouka also another option upfront.

Cuper ready to give new faces chance?

To what extent the 62-year-old Cuper would be ready to give new faces a chance just a few months before the World Cup also remains unknown, with his assistant Osama Nabih stating that the two upcoming friendlies will feature all squad players.

“We will try to give all the 28 squad players a chance against Portugal and Greece. Both games will feature two different lineups,” Nabih told satellite channel ON Sport.

“We will be keen to remind our players with our playing style as our last training camp was months ago.”

Enppi playmaker Mohamed Magdi and ex-Maqassa forward Hussein El-Shahat– alongside overachieving Ismaily goalkeeper Mohamed Awwad – has been the prominent new faces in Egypt’s squad.

With Egypt’s keeper at the World Cup likely to be either Zamalek guardian Ahmed El-Shennawi or the veteran Essam El-Hadary, Awwad does not look to have a real chance of featuring in Russia despite his superb displays this season.

El-Shahat, on the other side, has been impressive for UAE side Al-Ain since moving from Maqassa in the winter break, but is rated doubtful for the Portugal clash.

Should El-Said fail to impress, would El-Shahat and Magdi’s chances of featuring increase? Or would Shikabala remain ahead in his manager’s pecking order?

Salah-Cristiano clash

Portugal, on the other side, will be spearheaded by Real Madrid star and Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo, giving the Egypt defense a stern test ahead of their World Cup opener against Uruguay’s Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani on June 15.

The A Seleção das Quinas will, however, miss Benfica defender Ruben Dias and ex-Real Madrid left-back Fabio Coentrao - who were replaced by Luis Neto (Fenerbahce) and Mario Rui (Napoli).

But the main talking point will be the meeting between Ronaldo and Salah, who are both vying for the European Golden Shoe – with the Egyptian leading the standings.

Ronaldo has managed to score 18 goals in his last nine La Liga games, with the red-hot Salah currently topping the Premier League scoring charts with 28 goals this season.

Would both teams’ defenses be able to resist the threat posed by Salah and Ronaldo? That would be on display at the Stadion Letzigrund.        

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