Can Egypt cope without Salah if he misses World Cup opening match against Uruguay?
All the talk around the Egypt team and their World Cup campaign has centred on the fitness of striker Mohamed Salah‚ which tells you all you need to know about his importance to this team.
The Liverpool forward has been among the leading players in Europe this season‚ banging in 44 goals in 52 appearances in all competitions for The Reds and playing an instrumental role in them surprisingly reaching the UEFA Champions League final.
But it was his shoulder injury in the decider against Real Madrid‚ according to some deliberately inflicted by Spain defender Sergio Ramos‚ that deflated Liverpool’s players and saw them lose 3-1 – while at the same time has put Egypt as a country on edge as to whether he will be fit for the World Cup.
At this stage it looks 50-50 whether he will take part‚ having not yet returned to full training and Egypt’s first game looming against Uruguay on Friday.
But Egyptian Football Association official Ehab Lehita said that Salah looks to be going well in his rehabilitation
“He is gradually getting better.
"However‚ I cannot confirm today that he will play in the first match‚” Lehita told reporters.
“All I can say is that we hope he will play in this match.”
Egypt have Argentine coach Hector Cuper in charge and while he obviously knows the value of Salah‚ he believes they can cope without their star man.
"We hope we won't be affected‚ we try to be the same team‚ we can't be dependent on one player‚" Cuper said.
"He's important but if he's not fit in time we will be ready with another player.
"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."
Egypt are appearing in their first World Cup since Italy in 1990‚ a staggering statistic when you think how they dominated African football at both club and country level in-between‚ especially in the early part of this century.
Great players such as Mohamed Aboutrika‚ Ahmed Hassan‚ Wael Gomaa and Mido never got to taste a World Cup finals‚ but for one of their long-standing veterans‚ goalkeeper Essam El Hadary‚ he will achieve that goal.
El Hadary remains Egypt’s number one gloveman at the age of 45 and is expected to line-up against Uruguay‚ making him the oldest player ever to feature in a World Cup‚ beating the record of Colombian keeper Faryd Mondragón‚ who was 43 when he appeared at Brazil 2014.
Egypt should fancy their chances of reaching the second round as aside from difficult opponents Uruguay‚ they also have hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia in their pool‚ the two lowest ranked sides in the entire tournament.
Russia have home advantage but have been very poor of late‚ are very beatable and almost certainly would not have qualified by conventional means.
Egypt are winless in their last six games though and have not had the greatest build-up to the tournament‚ losing their last warm-up match 3-0 in Belgium on Friday.
They also drew with Colombia‚ Ghana and Kuwait‚ and lost to Greece and Portugal.
After Friday’s opening clash with Uruguay‚ they meet Russia on Tuesday and Saudi Arabia on June 25.