Preview: Egypt keeping feet on ground ahead of Uganda double-header

Hatem Maher , Wednesday 30 Aug 2017

Egypt beat Ghana 2-0 in their second Group E game of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers (Reuters)

With a superb start to their World Cup qualifying campaign putting Egypt in a good position to end a lengthy drought in the football's most prestigious showpiece, coach Hector Cuper said his team must keep their feet on the ground if they are to overcome Uganda in a crucial double-header.

The Pharaohs face the Cranes away from home on Thursday before hosting them in Alexandria five days later, hoping to build on a convincing start to their Group E campaign that saw them bag maximum six points from two matches against outsiders Congo and heavyweights Ghana.

With Ghana also stumbling in a surprise opening draw at home to Uganda, who have four points, Egypt are aware that two wins over Uganda will put them within touching distance of a place at the Russia finals for the first time since 1990.

Should Egypt fulfill this target, they will secure their World Cup place if they beat Congo at home in October regardless of other results in the group and before they meet Ghana in Kumasi in their last match.

Uganda were taken by surprise last month after coach Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic, who turned around their fortunes and helped them qualify for their first African Cup of Nations in 39 years at the Gabon finals earlier this year, terminated his contract over unpaid wages.

But Cuper insisted Egypt should take nothing for granted, saying a 1-0 group-stage victory over Uganda at the Nations Cup will have no bearing on Thursday's encounter.

"We are fully aware of the importance of those two matches," the Argentinean boss, who was on the verge of steering Egypt to the Nations Cup title only to lose to Cameroon in the final, told a news conference previewing the anticipated clash.

"The chances are open and there are no such things as easy games. The last game we played against Uganda was complicated despite our victory but I trust my team and we picked the best players to do our best and win both games."

Exploits of foreign-based players

Egypt are taking heart from the exploits of foreign-based players, especially those plying their trade in the elite English Premier League.

Winger Mohamed Salah made an explosive start with Liverpool, scoring two goals in the first three league games including a brilliant solo effort in Sunday's 4-0 drubbing of Arsenal.

Central defender Ahmed Hegazi also proved solid at the back with West Bromwich Albion and was even on target to lead them to an opening 1-0 win over Bournemouth while Ramadan Sobhi is starting to show flashes of his talent with Stoke City.

Although Mohamed Elneny was left out of Arsenal's squad for the embarrassing loss to Liverpool, he still features in Arsene Wenger's plans and was instrumental in the Community Shield shootout win over Chelsea in the season curtain-raiser.

Elsewhere, Mahmoud Trezeguet scored two goals in the first two Turkish league matches with Kasimpasa and Ahmed Kouka, one of two out-and-out strikers in Egypt's roster, netted in Braga's 3-1 loss to Benfia in the opening day of the Portuguese league earlier this month.

Egypt will miss Saudi-based winger Mostafa Fathi and key defender Ali Gabr due to injury. The latter is likely to be replaced with Saad Samir, who was voted as Ahly's best player last season as the Red Devils won their first domestic double in 10 years.

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