Egypt open the Africa Cup of Nations 2019 with a straightforward fixture scheduled against Zimbabwe at the Cairo International Stadium on 22 June. The host nations have an impeccable record at the biennial tournament whenever it has been played at their home turf, and having made it to the final last time, they will want to make the most of home support this time around.
Well, with Uganda and DR Congo completing Group A at the event, it seems The Pharaohs have got the better end of the deal when it comes to group allocation and are expected to cruise through their group. Having a player like Mo Salah helps a lot, and only a slump at the back can derail their run at the continental extravaganza.
In the lead up to the main event, they had lost a friendly against Nigeria 1-0 - always a strong contender for silverware - and won their latest one against minnows Tanzania by the same margin.
Coming to the squad selection, Javier Aguirre opted for a well-balanced squad with just the right mix of experience and youth, with the most capped player Ahmed Elmohamady handed the captain's armband by the Mexican manager. One surprise inclusion to the squad was Arab Contractors' striker Ahmed Ali, who was recalled to the international fold after a gap of eight years.
Aguirre had announced a provisional 25-man squad last month, from which he decided to axe the most internationally inexperienced players in goalkeeper Mohamed Abou-Gabal and left-back Ahmed Aboul-Fetouh.
As of now, there is no news of any injury or suspension. Aguirre has been smart enough to allow Salah and Elneny a much-needed breather from their prolonged club campaign, who've also subsequently joined their pre-tournament training.
It is expected that Aguirre will go for a conventional 4-2-3-1 formation to kick off the tournament, as it offers him the chance to get the best of the men at his disposal. Though he has said that he will be experimenting with the squads and lineups before the competition actually begins.
World Cup veteran goalie Ahmed El Shenawy will start between the sticks and will be covered by the experienced center-back duo of Hegazi and Mahmoud Alaa, while Elmohamady and Ashraf are expected to take up the duty on the flanks.
Mohamed Elneny and Tarek Hamed will form the backbone of the team as two solid box-to-box midfielders, while Salah will start in his preferred right wing position with Trezeguet complementing him from the left flank. It is expected that youngster Amr Warda starts in the No.10 role behind the striker, ahead of veterans El-Said and Soliman, as he can act as a source of flair and energy from that position.
The lone striker for The Pharaohs will be the veteran Marwan Mohsen, who scored two goals in their qualifying campaign, only behind Salah and Trezeguet in the tally.
So, having taken an in-depth look at their squad players, here's the predicted lineup for the host nation for their opener against The Warriors.
Egypt: Ahmed El Shenawy, Ahmed Hegazi, Mahmoud Alaa, Ayman Ahsraf, Ahmed Elmohamady, Mohamed Elneny, Tarek Hamed, Mahmoud Trezeguet, Amr Warda, Mohamed Salah, Marwan Mohsen.
#1 Mo Salah
It goes without saying that when you have Mo Salah in your team, you need to get your tactics aligned in such a way that you get the best out of the gifted player. On the back of a wonderful Premier League campaign in which he was the joint top-scorer and won the UEFA Champions League with Liverpool, it is expected that the former Chelsea winger will light up the tournament with his quick feet and trademark dinks.
He adds a winning quality to the squad and with him in red-hot form, it will not be shocking to see him ending as the tournament's top scorer.
Despite his young age, Mahmoud Hassan or Trézéguet is rapidly emerging as a key cog in the wheel of Egypt's attack. He is an extremely talented dribbler, can find spaces behind the opposition defenses and is equally competent at scoring goals as well as assisting them.
He can act as a suitable deputy for Salah and take over the attacking responsibilities whenever the opposition is drawn too much towards the Liverpool forward.Published 17 Jun 2019, 07:12 IST