Preview: Egypt hoping to avoid COVID-19 scare in Nations Cup

Hatem Maher , Sunday 9 Jan 2022

For many teams, including Egypt, it might be a matter of how far they can survive the COVID-19 scare and safely get over the line as a youthful-looking Pharaohs side comprising more than a dozen debutants seek to end a 12-year African Cup of Nations drought.

Mohamed Salah
File photo: Egypt star Mohamed Salah (L) holds off South African Dean Furman during a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations last 16 clash in Cairo (AFP)

Twelve years is a lengthy barren spell by the standards of the record seven-time winners.

Egypt came close to adding an eighth crown in 2017, only to surrender their lead and lose 2-1 to Cameroon in the final. Two years later, they put on an embarrassing show on home soil to bow out at the last 16 at the hands of South Africa.

Liverpool talisman Mohamed Salah will be looking to help Egypt deliver the trophy on his own third attempt as hopes are largely pinned on him to restore the team's glory days.

Salah has recently come in for rare criticism, with some accusing him of failing to replicate his club form on the international level.

But given the little assistance he receives from his Egypt teammates, and given the fact that he is currently the team's second all-time top scorer with 45 goals, such criticism seem somewhat harsh.

Salah will spearhead an attack that looks very unfamiliar as Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz moulds a young and promising team that he hopes will fire on all cylinders at the Cameroon finals.

Two of the players who will accompany Salah in the final third were not there when Egypt hosted the 2019 Nations Cup -- Galatsaray striker Mostafa Mohamed and Stuttgart's on-loan winger Omar Marmoush.

More than a dozen other players will also make their Nations Cup debut, with Queiroz retaining less than 10 men from the side that played the previous Nations Cup edition.

It's a gamble that he hopes will pay off as he enlarged the scope of his selections, picking many players from unfancied Egyptian Premier League sides.  

Queiroz has also recently altered Egypt's formation from a traditional 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3 scheme, which he tried at the FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar, where Egypt finished fourth last month.

Egypt are expected to seal smooth progress to the last 16 from a group that includes Nigeria, their main challengers, as well as Sudan and Guinea-Bissau.

They open their campaign against Nigeria on Tuesday at the Roumde Adjia Stadium in Cameroon's Garoua.

COVID-19 worries

But any talks of Egypt's Nations Cup prospects are contingent on the team avoiding any COVID-19 outbreaks, with a wave of infections hitting several teams at the tournament including Senegal, Burkina Faso and Gabon.

Egypt were not spared as understudy goalkeeper Mohamed Abou-Gabal and goalkeeping coach Essam El-Hadary were kept at home after contracting the highly-contagious virus. Officials said they can fly to Cameroon later when they turn a negative result.

"Unprecedented times. The more the situation becomes difficult, the more we stay together & strong," Queiroz said on Twitter.

"Dear Friends & Team Mates, we all pray for your health, wishing fast recovery and return to our Team."

Egypt meet Guinea-Bissau on their next Group D match on 15 January before concluding their group-stage campaign against Sudan four days later.

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

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