Egypt enters only its third World Cup after qualifying in the most dramatic circumstances back in October.
Drawn in Group A with hosts Russia, the robust and well-organized squad lead by Argentine manager Hector Cuper will feel it has a strong chance of getting out of one of the weaker groups in the tournament.
A lot of Egypt’s hopes lie with Liverpool forward Mohammed Salah. Despite coming off an outstanding individual season, the 25-year-old winger’s fitness is in question after suffering a shoulder injury in the Champions League final.
Here’s everything you need to know about Egypt before it kicks off against Uruguay on June 15.
How They Qualified
With two games remaining, Egypt geared up to face Congo in front of 90,000 supporters at the Borg El-Arab Stadium knowing a win would take them to their first World Cup since 1990. Salah converted a 95th minute penalty to send his nation into raptures.
Their qualifying campaign had mostly been built on a solid defense. Conceding only four goals en route to topping their group had come from manager Cuper deciding to go with a very pragmatic system. Playing a 4-2-3-1 with two deep holding midfielders in Mohammed Elneny and Tarek Hamed sitting in front of the center back partnership of West Brom’s Alid Gabr and Ahmed Hegazi.
Salah provided nearly all of Egypt’s attacking potency, netting 71% of its goals in qualifying. A counterattacking system has been the foundation for its success, and with a settled starting XI, don’t expect that to change in Russia.
Group Stage (June 15-25)
Egypt starts its World Cup campaign against Uruguay in Yekaterinburg, which is the toughest of its Group A opponents.
Lead by experienced coach Oscar Tabarez, his side has mostly relied on a resolute defense and sat back, giving the world-class ability of Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani the chance to do the damage up top.
Egypt next faces the host nation in Russia on June 19 at Saint Petersburg Stadium.
Russia has a major sense of uncertainty surrounding the side going into the tournament. With the obvious problems off the field that have tarred Russia’s reputation, on the pitch there are as many questions still to be answered surrounding the style of play and starting lineup.
Egypt’s final opponent in Group A is Saudi Arabia, who will be looked at as the weakest squad on paper.
Managed by former Chile boss Juan Antonio Pizzi, the side will mostly look to sit deep and stifle opposition. Looking unlikely to be full of goals, The Green Falcons will look to Mohammed al-Sahawi to covert when chances to do come.
Possible Route To Final
Assuming Egypt makes it out of Group A, it will face a difficult challenge in the round of 16. With Portugal and Spain both drawn in Group B, finishing first or second will likely provide an extremely difficult opponent.
If Egypt were able to make it past either the likes of Portugal or Spain, there is no let up in the last eight as the likely opposition will come in the form of Argentina. If the magic of Salah can pull his nation to the last four, the reigning World Champions in Germany are most favored to be waiting there.
The smart money on the side they’d theoretically come up against in the final would come from Brazil, France or Belgium.
Provisional Squad List
Goalkeepers: Essam El-Hadary, Mohammed El-Shennawy, Sherif Ekramy, Mohammed Awad
Defenders: Ahmed Fathi, Saad Samir, Ayman Ashraf, Mahmoud Hamdy, Mohamed Abdel Shafy, Ahmed Hegazi, Ali Gabr, Ahmed Elmohamady, Karem Hafez, Omar Gaber, Amro Tarek
Midfielders: Tarek Hamed, Mahmoud Abdel Aziz, Shikabala, Abdallah El-Said, Sam Morsy, Mohamed Elneny, Mahmoud Kahraba, Ramadan Sobhi, Mahmoud Trezeguet, Amr Warda
Forwards: Marwan Mohsen, Ahmad Gomaa, Ahmed Hassan, Mohammed Salah
(4-2-3-1) Essam El-Hadary; Mohammed Abdel-Shafy, Ali Gabr, Ahmed Hegazi, Ahmed Fathi; Mohammed Elneny, Amro Tarek; Mohammed Salah, Abdallah El-Said, Mahmoud Trezeguet; Ahmed Hassan
A lot currently rests on the fitness of Salah. As has been shown in previous major tournaments, players with the ability to win games on their own can take mediocre sides and lift them to new heights. If Egypt is to get out of its group, Salah must play.
Looking at its fellow Group A opponents and seeing the instability of Russia and inexperience of Saudi Arabia gives Egypt a great platform to progress. A settled lineup, clear style of play and vision can get teams far even with a lack of star names–though coming up against either Portugal or Spain would likely be the end of the road for Cuper’s side.