Preview: Egypt playing for pride in last World Cup game against Saudi Arabia

Hatem Maher , Sunday 24 Jun 2018,
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Mohamed Salah
Egypt's Mohamed Salah scores their first goal from the penalty spot (Photo: REUTERS)

A wounded Egypt side, who were buzzing with excitement ahead of their first World Cup appearance in 28 years but came crashing down to earth after a poor campaign, will be playing for pride when they meet Saudi Arabia in Volgograd on Monday.

The Pharaohs initially looked promising despite an opening 1-0 defeat by Uruguay as they were lauded for a solid defensive display, but had a night to forget in Saint Petersburg when they were outclassed by a physical and clinical Russia side, who ran out 3-1 winners last week.

Saudi Arabia also suffered two losses, including an embarrassing 5-0 reverse against Russia in the opening World Cup game on 14 June, to exit the tournament  

Egypt have an extra motivation to claim all three points - they have never won a World Cup game.

They lost 4-2 to Hungary on their first appearance in 1934 and drew with the Netherlands and Ireland before losing to England at the 1990 finals in Italy.

"For us, this is an important match," Egypt coach Hector Cuper told a news conference on Sunday.

"We want to end our participation in World Cup on a high note, with a good result. And once again we’re playing for all people in Egypt; we want to give them joy.

"We want to end this World Cup with a victory. A first World Cup win for Egypt would be something very important."

It might be the last game for Cuper in charge of Egypt after the Argentinean was vilified for what many believe an overly-cautious approach that did the team no favour when it mattered most.

The canny boss has built the team around a rock-solid defence since his arrival more than three years ago, helping them reach the African Nations Cup final in early 2017 before lifting them to the World Cup for the first time since 1990.

"I have never excluded anything. It might be my last game and it might not. It will depend on a number of factors," Cuper said.

"Of course I would like to make everybody happy, to come up with something that everybody would agree with. But it's impossible  

Dressing-room problems?

The build-up to the Saudi Arabia game has been dominated by reports of dressing-room rifts that followed the loss to Russia.

Egypt was forced to repeatedly deny that Essam El-Hadary, the veteran 45-year-old keeper who remained on the bench in the two opening matches, has fallen out with Cuper and goalkeeping coach Ahmed Nagy after finding out that he would not play against Russia.

Having impressed in the opening 1-0 loss to Uruguay, Mohamed El-Shennawi got the nod again in the second Group A clash against Russia, leaving Hadary still waiting to set a record he long sought.

Hadary will become the oldest player ever to appear at a World Cup should he play in Egypt's final group-stage campaign against Saudi Arabia.

"There might be small disagreements but I would like to hear evidence or proof of this. If you don't have evidence or proof, I won't answer that question," Cuper added.

Star forward Mohamed Salah was also under the spotlight after he was given an honorary citizenship by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov as the strongman ruler hosted a farewell dinner for the Egyptian national team on Friday.

Egypt denied a CNN report that Salah was contemplating international retirement "due to his unhappiness over what has happened in Chechnya".

The Liverpool star is expected to lead their attack against Saudi Arabia. He missed the opening loss to Uruguay due to a shoulder injury but played in the defeat by Russia, scoring the Pharaohs' only goal from a second-half penalty.

Salah, who is expected lead Egypt's attack against Saudi Arabia, netted 34 goals in 58 international appearances.

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