Egypt without Salah: Are there any secret weapons to unleash?

Hatem Maher , Wednesday 13 Jun 2018,
File Photo: Egypt's Mohamed Salah, left, celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the African Cup of Nations semifinal soccer match between Burkina Faso and Egypt at the Stade de l'Amitie, in Libreville, Gabon. The Egypt squad in Russia for its first World Cup since 1990 has a nickname besides the Pharaohs. (Photo: AP)

A Mohamed Salah absence in the opening World Cup game against Uruguay would be a devastating blow to an Egypt side that is so dependent on the Liverpool forward. Are there any secret weapons for coach Hector Cuper to unleash?

Mo Salah, a national hero, is facing a race against time to be fit for the Friday Group A clash against Uruguay after injuring shoulder ligaments in Liverpool’s defeat by Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League final last month.

Egypt showed no signs of being able to fill the void left by the red-hot forward in their pre-World Cup friendlies, having struggled to carve out openings in two draws with Kuwait and Colombia.

Their last warm-up saw them suffer a 3-0 defeat by Belgium but they at least created some goal-scoring chances, but still missed the efficiency of Salah upfront.

Cuper’s counter-attacking schemes usually rely on the pace and trickery of Salah to finish off any breakaway. If he is not available against Uruguay, who are expected to pin Egypt into their own half, the Argentinean acknowledged he would have to alter his strategy.

“We hope we won't be affected, we try to be the same team, we can't be dependent on one player,” said the former Inter Milan and Valencia boss.

"This is football, these things can happen to any player. We could need to substitute him, but we hope that won't be the case.

“If he is not available, we have plan B, just like Argentina if they play without Lionel Messi.”

Can a plan B be equally effective? The answer is: of course not. However, Egypt’ squad is rich with wingers who can minimize the damage.

Left-winger Mahmoud Trezeguet, who plays for Kasimpasa in Turkey, stands out with his impressive work rate and bold runs at the opposition area. Although he spurned a golden chance against Belgium, his finishing skills are usually lauded and he can be the man tasked with running behind the defence in the event of a Salah absence.

Salah forged a deadly combination with experienced playmaker Abdallah El-Said to unlock tight backlines in the World Cup qualifying run, and the Ahly man is assured of his place behind a lone striker, who is likely to be Marwan Mohsen.

Ahly’s Mohsen is a classic target man who is preferred by Cuper due to his ability to win aerial battles, hold up the ball and feed overlapping wingers, although his goal-scoring record is not that impressive.

The only question for Cuper if Salah misses the Uruguay clash would be who to deploy on the right wing instead of the 25-year-old in his favourite 4-2-3-1 formation.

Three players are vying for this role - Greek-based winger Amr Warda, Zamalek's Mahmoud Kahraba and Huddersfield new signing Ramadan Sobhi.

Kahraba's talent is undoubted but his tendency to showboat might be a cause of concern for Cuper, who also sometimes relies on the former Ittihad Jeddah man as a false nine.

Sobhi hardly grasped his chance when he featured in Egypt's pre-World Cup friendlies, having appeared somewhat sluggish and he is also not very familiar with the right flank as he usually plays on the left.

Warda, who played last season on loan at Atromitos from PAOK, might get the nod due his defensive capabilities and tendency to drop deep and support the full-back. He took part in Egypt's five friendly games before the World Cup.

Whoever occupies this flank would find it difficult to fill Salah's boots but Cuper, the canny manager, might still have an answer.

“He's important but if he's not fit in time we will be ready with another player," Cuper said.

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


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