World Cup 2018: Egypt vs Uruguay Preview
Mo Salah's absence will be the major concern for Egypt going into their first game.
If this fixture is billed as one of the more exciting games of the tournament, it's because it features a few of the top finishers in world football at the moment. The likes of Luis Suarez, Edison Cavani and, hopefully, even Mohamed Salah will look to carry on their fine run from their respective domestic seasons into the World Cup.
The winner of this game may also eventually decide which team does grab the top spot in Group A to get favorablele draw in the Round of 16. Let's take a closer look at the two teams ahead of their first World Cup draw.
The whole of Egypt will be closely following the fitness updates of their talismanic striker Mo Salah. It was Salah who earned and scored a last-gasp penalty against bottom-placed Congo in the qualifiers that led the Pharaohs to their first World Cup since 1990 and his absence will be conspicuous in case he does not make it for the first game.
In the run-up to the finals, Egypt have failed to win in their last 6 games having felt the absence of Salah in their last three matches. However, since taking over the reins of this Egyptian squad, coach Hector Cuper has instilled in his team a strong defensive set-up; not having lost a game by more than a one-goal margin since taking over.
Mohamed Elneny-who plies his trade for Arsenal in the Premier League-and Tarek Hamed will hold key positions as defensive midfielders in the 4-2-3-1 formation that the Argentinian coach has been employing effectively.
In Salah's absence, much will depend on Elneny to fire and his experience of playing in Arsenal's journey to the Europa League finals will certainly help counter Uruguay's attack. He will have Abdallah El-Said, the creative playmaker to assist him in attack.
Given the bigger picture of making it to and surviving the Round of 16, it is highly unlikely that Mo Salah will start in attack in the opening game although he may indeed come on in the later stages of the game to make a point.
Egypt Predicted line-up:
Egypt will line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation that they have gotten accustomed to under Cuper with Elneny and Hamed dropping deep to assist in defense while moving forward to link up play in the attack.
Having won the coveted trophy a couple of times, Uruguay are the most decorated team of the group. However, that was way back in 1930 and 1950. They came close in the 2010 edition where they bowed out in the semi-finals.
The La Celeste shouldn't have any problem topping their group. While Edison Cavani will spearhead the attack, he will share his work with Suarez, who also doubles as a playmaker and their combination will be lethal. Put together they have scored a massive 71 goals in 99 matches in their domestic season across all competitions.
The defensive pair of Diego Godin and Jose Giminez will balance their attacking prowess to help keep a check on the Egyptian attack including the case where Mo Salah makes an appearance in the later stages of the game.
Coming into the tournament, Uruguay have lost just one of their last six games, winning three and they seem to have warmed up well in the run-up to their first game. Meanwhile, Suarez will try to put behind him his World Cup antics (goal-denying handball in 2010 and biting in 2014) to focus on what lays ahead.
Uruguay Predicted Line-up:
Oscar Tabarez is expected to play the same eleven that started in the practice game against Uzbekistan except for Nandez who will make way for Rodriguez in the 4-2-3-1 setup.
Egypt success at the World Cup is directly dependent on how Mo Salah performs. To give you an idea, he has scored a staggering 71% of Egypt's goals in the qualifying round and the World Cup finals should be no different. It may augur well for Uruguay that their main threat will not start the game and their strong defense means that it should be quite straightforward for them. The game will no doubt be thrilling but Uruguay should take it away comfortably.
FT Prediction: Egypt 1-3 Uruguay
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