There is no room for more experiments as Egypt, without talisman Mohamed Salah, enter the final phase of their World Cup preparations with a high-profile friendly against Colombia in Italian city Bergamo on Friday.
Hector Cuper, Egypt’s canny Argentinean boss, gave some fringe players the chance to stake a late claim for a World Cup place when the team faced Kuwait in a friendly game last Friday but he is likely to field a full-strength side against Colombia.
Egypt continued their disappointing pre-World Cup run with a 1-1 draw at Kuwait, defender Ayman Ashraf sparing their blushes with a late equaliser after the Pharaohs struggled to break down their unfancied opponents.
It was their third successive friendly without a win, having surrendered their lead to concede two stoppage-time goals by Cristiano Ronaldo in a 2-1 defeat by Portugal before losing 1-0 to Greece in two games in March.
“Of course, the draw was better than a defeat but I look for other things than the result,” Cuper, whose ultra-cautious strategy lifted Egypt to their first World Cup finals since 1990, told reporters following the Kuwait game.
“I know that the fans always want their team to record positive results … but we had a group of new players that we wanted to experiment new strategies in their presence.”
Cuper is facing more questions than answers, especially following a shoulder injury that star winger Mo Salah sustained during Liverpool’s UEFA Champions League final loss to Real Madrid last Saturday.
According to the Egyptian Football Association, Salah faces three weeks on the sidelines. EFA chief Hani Abou-Reida said the 25-year-old might not be available for Egypt’s opening World Cup game against Uruguay on 15 June.
Cuper’s counter-attacking schemes mainly rely on Salah’s runs behind the defence, with the effervescent winger often finishing off breakaways. His absence leaves Cuper with little time to find alternatives, with Egypt only having Belgium to face in another friendly before the World Cup gets underway.
The former Inter Milan and Valencia boss will also have to settle on his final 23-man squad following the Colombia friendly, which comes just three days before the FIFA deadline.
With Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny still recovering from an ankle injury, Zamalek’s Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz is likely to partner club teammate Tarek Hamed in the heart of Egypt’s midfield after producing a fine display against Kuwait.
Abdel-Aziz, a late inclusion in Egypt’s roster, is one of the new additions who are expected to make the final World Cup squad.
Egypt next face Belgium in Brussels on 6 June before flying to Russia to begin their World Cup campaign.