Before Egypt’s opening game it had been all about Mohamed Salah and after Egypt’s opening game it was all about Mohamed Salah.
Given Hector Cuper had seemed adamant that Salah would play against Uruguay, only to decide against risking him, it is perhaps wise to exercise a degree of caution, but it does seem the Liverpool forward will play against the hosts Russia on Tuesday.
“I think it’s quite probable he will play,” said Cuper.
“He didn’t play (against Uruguay) because we wanted to avoid any risks or danger. I think he’s going to be fine for the next match.
“The decision is always taken by myself and the technical and medical staff, especially in a case like this. We were quite certain during the training session that he would be able to play.
“Afterwards he was examined by the doctors and there was some doubt that if he fell or was hit by another player that he would suffer another injury. So we decided not to take that risk because we want him in top form for the games against Russia and Saudi Arabia,” he said.
The gamble is understandable and would have looked inspired had Egypt not conceded a last-minute winner to Jose Gimenez. As it is, Egypt probably need to beat Russia if they are to have a chance of going through. Might it, then, have been a different game had Salah started? The Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez was unconvinced.
“I believe in football. The main factor for good performances is the individual skill of the footballers that make up a team,” he said.
“We as coaches try to make these players express these skills, but of course brilliant players are the linchpins of the team. I imagine with Salah in top form, Egypt would have benefited.
“In qualifying we had matches without (Luis) Suarez and (Edinson) Cavani, but we won those matches anyway.”
Cuper, similarly, preferred to stress the importance of the collective rather than wonder what might have been had Salah been fit enough to play.
“Salah is an extremely important player for us,” he said. “Nobody can deny that. But you have to have a good team. Perhaps if he had been on the pitch we would have had a different result, but you cannot say that.”
It was impossible, though, not to wonder. As well as Egypt defended, they were so lacking in cutting edge that they were always vulnerable to conceding. One goal always looked like being enough.
Cuper spoke of Egypt creating attacking opportunities and, to an extent, he was right. But it is one thing to create chances and another to look like scoring them. When Uruguay began to increase the pressure in the final minutes, they were able to commit men forward without it feeling as though they were taking major risks.
Whether or not Egypt would have got a better result with Salah, his presence would at least have forced a level of caution from Uruguay.
And that, as much as the goals he may offer, is why Egypt need Salah back for the game against Russia.
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