Egypt’s hopes of success at the 2018 World Cup have been potentially devastated by events the Champions League final.
The shoulder injury sustained by Mohamed Salah which saw him depart on just 30 minutes against Real Madrid could rule the Liverpool midfielder out of the tournament – although the Egyptian FA have opted to take him to Russia.
That at least offers hope, with Salah undoubtedly vital to Egypt’s prospects.
The Liverpool winger is considered as the talisman in the Pharaohs’ squad and, from a Fantasy perspective, he would be their obvious target for attacking points in World Cup Fantasy.
Elswhere, manager Hector Cuper’s preference for a defensive set-up, even against other African nations, could provide us with an outside chance of clean sheets in Russia.
Road to Qualification
As the most successful nation in African football history, it was about time that Egypt made it to a World Cup for the first time since 1990.
Despite missing out on the tournament for the last six editions, they have won the African Cup of Nations more times than any other side (seven), most recently in 2010. And they came close to winning an eighth title last year as they were narrowly beaten in the 2017 final by Cameroon, knocking out Ghana, Morocco and Burkina Faso along the way. It served as good tournament experience and largely demonstrated the mental and defensive strength of this group of players.
That AFCON campaign took place in the middle of a World Cup qualifying programme in which Egypt, again, got the best of Ghana, who have been one of the continent’s best performers over the last decade.
The only nation to defeat Egypt in the six matches played in Group E of the third round was an emerging Uganda side. Without particularly entertaining, the Pharaohs had qualification wrapped up with one game to spare. Inevitably, it was sealed by Salah and his brace in a 2-1 win over Congo in Alexandria.
Since booking their place in Russia, Egypt have been somewhat unconvincing in two March friendly defeats to Portugal and Greece, both in Switzerland.
The former was the only one in which the vast majority of regulars were involved. Salah gave Egypt the lead before Cristiano Ronaldo struck twice late on to win it. A more experimental side was downed by a solitary Nikolaos Karelis goal a few days later.
Salah’s importance to Egypt was demonstrated in two World Cup warm-up games. In a 0-0 draw with Colombia and a 3-0 defeat to Belgium they looked decidedly average without the Liverpool man in their side.
AFC World Cup Qualifying Third round
Most starts: Mohamed Elneny (6), Mohamed Abdel-Shafy, Essam El-Hadary, Tarek Hamed, Mohamed Salah (all 5)
Most goals: Mohamed Salah (5), Abdallah El-Said (2).
Most assists: Trezeguet (3), Mohamed Salah (2).
African Cup of Nations 2017
Most starts: Mohamed Elneny, Tarek Hamed, Mohamed Salah, Ahmed Fathy, Ali Gabr, Ahmed Hegazi (all 6), Trezeguet, Essam Al-Hadary (both 5).
Most goals: Mohamed Salah (2).
Most assists: Mohamed Salah (2).
The Key Targets
Mohamed Salah (£7.3m in Fantasy iTeam) is the obvious candidate among Egypt’s ranks. The Liverpool winger can often operate as an out-and-out centre-forward for his national side, which is why McDonald’s FIFA World Cup Fantasy has classifiied him as a forward, at a price of £8.5m). He heads into this summer’s finals as the Premier League’s Golden Boot winner and Fantasy Premier League record-breaker. It’s 12 goal involvements in as many international appearances (qualifiers, African Cup of Nations and recent friendlies combined) since October 2016 for Salah, thanks to eight goals and four assists.
However, without both Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino alongside him, even if Salah recovers to make the finals, he perhaps seems unlikely to reach the dizzy heights of his domestic club campaign. Indeed, Egypt’s unhealthy dependence on the Reds’ man could lead to opposition defences doubling up to restrict his impact.
Attacking midfielder Abdallah El-Said (£6.0m) could offer the best alternative route for attacking returns should Salah be ruled out.
He is still a long way off the Liverpool man for goal involvement (three goals, two assists) in the build-up to the World Cup. However, El-Said’s role in the national set-up is in the No 10 position, and he seems the most likely to provide assists for Salah, or the creative spark in his absence.
Fantasy managers could also look to take advantage of Cuper’s defensive mindset. Indeed, it should be noted that Egypt have conceded more than one goal just once in all their competitive matches under Cuper since 2015.
Ahmed Hegazi (£4.5m) looks to be the most candidate to consider.
One of the ever-presents in Egypt’s journey to the 2017 AFCON final, collecting four clean sheets, the strong and sometimes clumsy centre-back recorded encouraging defensive numbers in FPL with West Bromwich Albion this season. The third top defender for clearances, blocks and interceptions (CBI) this season, his contribution could help defy Saudi Arabia and Russia in the group matches.
We know he can be a threat from set-pieces too; Hegazi (£5.5m in Fantasy iTeam) scored twice this season and was level with Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso for big chances among defenders (four).
The Long Shots
There are a couple of youthful options in Egypt’s attacking midfield who could act as differentials.
Mahmoud Hassan (commonly known as Trezeguet) registered three assists in qualifying, and he could shine in Salah’s potential absence.
At club level Trezeguet (£6.0m) has enjoyed a stunning campaign, scoring 13 times and assisting another six in 31 appearances for Turkish Super Lig outfit Kasimpasa.
Forward Ramadan Sobhi (£5.5m) failed to achieve similar levels as Stoke City were relegated from the Premier League. Nonetheless, the wide man could prove a handy enabler if he can cement regular starts.
In Cuper’s regular 4-2-3-1, Ramadan seemed likely to miss out. He has started just five times for his country since October 2016, often featuring as a substitute. However, should Salah be sidelined, the young Potters winger could now be a more secure starter.
Ramadan, along with Mahmoud Abdel-Moneim (Kahraba) and Amr Warda, could all be trialled in Salah’s role. The forthcoming friendlies will tell us more, with the prognosis on Salah’s shoulder now the most crucial news to come from the Egyptian camp.
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