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Friday, 16 April 2021

Preview: 'Attacking-minded' Egypt begin post-Cuper era in Nations Cup qualifier

Hatem Maher , Friday 7 Sep 2018
Egypt's Mohamed Salah celebrates with Marwan Mohsen scoring goal against Saudi Arabia at the 2018 World Cup in Russia (Reuters)
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Views: 4390

When Egypt host Niger in an African Cup of Nations qualifier in Alexandria on Saturday, they will mark the debut of coach Javier Aguirre with an expected all-out attack scheme that stands in stark contrast to how the team used to fare under his predecessor, Hector Cuper.

Cuper, a canny Argentinean boss, proved a shrewd tactician in his more than three years at the helm, tightening up at the back as Egypt's defensive solidity lifted them to the 2017 Nations Cup final and led them to a place in the summer World Cup finals for the first time in 28 years.

However, Egypt still lacked imagination in the final third and Cuper was widely blamed for an embarrassing campaign in Russia that saw the team lose all three Group A games to bow out in disappointing fashion, having failed to bag a single point after some error-ridden displays.

Cuper's contract was not renewed and the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) acted quickly, bringing in former Mexico coach Aguirre who vowed to turn around the team's fortunes.

In doing so, he is aware he needs to change a much-maligned defensive strategy and adopt a bolder approach.

"I have full respect for my predecessor Hector Cuper, but I have my own strategy that I want to apply with the Egyptian team," Aguirre said after taking over at the team.

"Cuper's achievement of guiding the team to the World Cup finals deserves respect, but all must know that there will be a new era and we will start our work from point zero.

"I aim to strike a balance between defence and attack. Firstly, the ball must be with us and then we should turn our dominance into goals and finally the result is the most important thing," he added.

Aguirre's squad selection showed that he intends to inject fresh blood into the team, having left out several veterans including Ahly's right-back Ahmed Fathi and Saudi-based left-back Mohamed Abdel-Shafi, both of whom were regulars under Cuper.

There were also some first call-ups for players who excelled in the early stages of the Egyptian Premier League season, including Dakhleya's attacking midfielder Eslam Gaber, Ismaily midfielder Mohamed Sadek and Ahly forward Salah Mohsen.

Given the lack of reliable out-and-out strikers, it is not yet clear whether Liverpool's Mohamed Salah will start in his favourite position on the wing or be deployed as a false nine to spearhead Egypt's attack.

Salah will play his first game for Egypt after being involved in an unusual public spat with the country's football association, reigniting a row over image rights that occurred before the World Cup.

The Egyptian FA's chief Hany Abo Rida said the problem with the team's undisputed star had been resolved.

The Pharaohs will miss Olympiacos striker Ahmed Kouka and Huddersfield winger Ramadan Sobhi, who were ruled out of the match through injury.

Egypt are seeking to make up for a disappointing 1-0 loss at Tunisia in their opening Group J game. The top two in the group will qualify for next year's Nations Cup finals in Cameroon.

The record seven-time African champions reached the final of the 2017 edition in Gabon, where they lost to champions Cameroon.

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