Small tweaks left for Egypt's Cuper as he announces preliminary World Cup squad

Ahram Online , Sunday 13 May 2018,
Egypt lost 2-1 to European champions Portugal in a friendly game played in March (Photo: Reuters)

Few things are left to be settled for Egypt coach Hector Cuper as he selected a preliminary 29-man World Cup squad on Sunday, sticking to his old guard and including three uncapped players who can stake a late claim for a place in the roster.

Cuper is constantly criticized by some Egyptian pundits for being too conservative in his choices but he tried some fringe players in two friendly games against Portugal and Greece in March, although few have been convincing.

The likes of Ahly's long-serving midfielder Hossam Ashour, UAE-based versatile midfielder Abdallah El-Shahat, Saudi-based winger Moemen Zakareya and Enppi playmaker Mohamed Afsha were left out of Egypt's preliminary squad despite featuring in the Switzerland training camp.

Cuper instead included Zamalek's uncapped duo Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz and Mahmoud Hamdi, Masry forward Ahmed Gomaa and another fringe player in defender Amro Tarek, who plays for MLS club Orlando City on loan from Egypt's Wadi Degla.

One or two of the four players could make it to the final World Cup squad, with pundits suggesting that combative central midfielder Abdel-Aziz has the best chance of going to Russia.

Abdel-Aziz has recently produced a string of impressive displays in the heart of Zamalek's midfield, partnering another Egyptian international in Tarek Hamed. His role was instrumental as the Cairo club reached the Egypt Cup final.

He is likely to compete with Wigan Athletic's Sam Morsy for an understudy role to regular duo Hamed and Arsenal's Mohamed Elneny.

At the back, Zamalek defender Hamdi is also likely to vie with the United States-based Tarek for a place in the final squad.

West Bromwich's on-loan defender Ali Gabr and his club teammate Ahmed Hegazi are Cuper's preferred partnership in the heart of his four-man backline, with Ahly's Saad Samir acting as their back-up. The Argentinean may opt to include a fourth centre back in his final squad.

Goalkeeper Ekramy is back

Despite some error-ridden displays for Egyptian giants Ahly last year, goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy, who made 21 international appearances, was recalled to the preliminary World Cup squad after Zamalek's Ahmed El-Shennawi was ruled out of the tournament with a serious knee injury.

With veteran goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary assured of his place in the final roster, Ekramy will battle it out with Ahly teammate Mohamed El-Shennawi and Ismaily's Mohamed Awad for the other two places.

El-Shennawi was Egypt's keeper in a 2-1 friendly defeat by Portugal. Awad played in the 1-0 loss to Greece but looked shaky throughout, fumbling at some tame efforts.

"Ekramy is always part of our regular goalkeepers," Egypt's goalkeeping coach Ahmed Nagi said last month.

"He was excellent in his last international game with Egypt," he added, referring to a 1-1 draw away to Ghana in Egypt's last World Cup qualifying match last November.

Egypt's squad will be trimmed to 23 before the World Cup, where they will play against hosts Russia, South American powerhouses Uruguay and Arab Gulf side Saudi Arabia in Group A.

The Pharaohs will face Kuwait on 25 May before taking on Colombia and Belgium in their remaining three warm-up games before the tournament.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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