AHEAD of the 2019 World Cup in Russia last year, experts wondered how the Pharaohs — making their return to the global football showcase — would do well either without their talisman Mohamed Salah, or with the forward not in prime condition after an injury in the UEFA Champions League final, writes Robson Sharuko in CAIRO, Egypt.
They were proved right. The Pharaohs lost 0-1 to Uruguay with Salah on the bench in the first game, were hammered 1-3 by hosts Russia in the second match with the forward scoring their only goal but clearly not 100 percent match fit, and then crashing to a 1-2 defeat at the hands of Saudi Arabia.
Again, Salah scored in the match.
But, three defeats in as many World Cup matches wasn’t the kind of return to the World Cup for the first time in 29 years, which the Pharaohs had been hoping for and Argentine coach Hector Cuper had to leave.
He was replaced by Mexican Javier Aguirre, who has the responsibility of leading them to glory in this Nations Cup finals, where success could also help him lift some of the personal gloom related to some match-fixing allegations in Spain which continue to haunt him.
Experts picked out, ahead of the World Cup, that despite Salah’s talents, the former coach Cuper always trusted going with a defensive approach and the over-reliance in the Liverpool man was, at times, a weakness.
“Egypt may have one of the best players in the world in Mohamed Salah, but do not let that fool you — this is a team set up very defensively under Héctor Cúper,’’ the experts who did the tactical run-down for The Guardian newspaper noted.
“In his first 35 games as Egypt manager, the Argentinian conceded only 20 goals.
“The Liverpool striker is indeed Egypt’s biggest strength, (but) the over-dependence on Salah could, however, be a major weakness.
“Egypt needs its men in the midfield, like Mohamed Elneny to create opportunities for the team’s superstar. The 25-year-old midfielder’s role could be crucial for the Pharaohs, and the two holding midfielders, Mohamed Elneny and Tarek Hamed usually sit deep.
“Egypt may struggle to score many goals, but teams usually find them hard to break them down.
In March this year, the Pharaohs were beaten 0-1 in a friendly international in Nigeria in the same stadium where the Warriors emerged with a goalless draw against the Super Eagles and there was concern here that Aguirre had failed to find a solution to the team’s weaknesses.
“The game showed that the players do not know how to deal with the cross-balls well, which posed a great threat to the goalkeeper,’’ noted the analysis from Egyptian newspaper, Daily News.
“Nigeria threatened the Pharaohs with several attacks on the goal on more than one occasion as a result of this problem.
“Aguirre admitted that there are some drawbacks which emerged in the matches against Niger and Nigeria and he seeks to correct them during the next stage, praising a number of players.
“He was keen on sitting down with the players after the game to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the team.”