Egypt, on Friday, will make a long-awaited return to the World Cup. The Pharaohs will face Uruguay in their opening 2018 World Cup match at the Central Stadium in Yekaterinburg. The game will start at 2:00 pm (local time). It will be the second match of Group A and the tournament, following the first clash between Russia (the hosts) and Saudi Arabia on Thursday.
The Central Stadium or Ekaterinburg Arena will be able to hold up to 35,000 spectators. After the World Cup, the plan is to reduce the capacity by removing the temporary stands. It is one of two venues that were built from scratch for the World Cup. The old Central Stadium had stood on the same site since 1956 and even before that, there was a velodrome there. The arena is a monument to Stalinist architecture and during the reconstruction, the facades of the old western and eastern stands were preserved. It features a modern and technologically advanced stadium roof, measuring 45.5 metres from the ground. It was installed above the stands.
The Ekaterinburg Arena will become FK Ural’s permanent home after the World Cup. The 87-year-old club has established itself in Russia’s top flight and last season reached the Russian Cup final. The Ekaterinburg Arena will host four matches in the group stage of Russia 2018, featuring countries from five different confederations: UEFA, CAF, CONMEBOL, AFC, and CONCACAF.
Mohamed Salah: Unlikely to play in Egypt’s opener
According to the media reports coming from Russia, Liverpool’s Egyptian star Mohamed Salah’s condition has improved, but he has not fully recovered from the injury he suffered on 26 May in the UEFA Champions League final against Real Madrid. Salah’s chances to play Egypt’s World Cup opener against Uruguay remain uncertain.
Egypt’s line-up against Uruguay seems clear to everyone. The goalkeeper Mohamed El Shennawy, favoured by goalkeeping coach Ahmad Naji, is more likely to play the game rather than the veteran international goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary, who is set to make history this summer by becoming the oldest player in World Cup history.
The other expected players are Ahmed Hegazy, Ali Gabr, Mohamed Abdel Shafy, Ahmed Fathi, Mohamed Elneny, Tarek Hamed, Abdallah Said, Mahmoud “Trezeguet” Hassan, Amr Warda, and Marwan Mohsen.
Warda is expected to be Salah’s alternative, based on the team’s pre-World Cup friendly matches, especially after the poor performance showed by Ramadan Sobhy. Egypt drew 1-1 with Kuwait, and 0-0 with Colombia, and lost 0-3 to Belgium. In these friendly clashes, Mahmoud “Shikabala” Abdel Razek was prepared to be Said’s replacement, while Mahmoud “Kahraba” Abdel Monem can replace Mohsen. Other defensive options include Ahmed Al-Mohamady as right wing supporting Fathi, and Omar Gaber can play in the midfield to cause more pressure on the other team.
Egypt’s head coach Hector Cuper is concerned about limiting the danger of Uruguay’s forward line, including Paris Saint-Germain’s striker Edinson Cavani and Barcelona’s star Luis Suarez, two of the most dangerous strikers in the world. This places a great responsibility on the defensive duo Gabr and Hegazy, midfielders Hamed and Elneny, and the backs Abdel Shafy and Fathi to prevent the Uruguayan team from sending the ball to their dangerous forwards, either from the sides or depth of the stadium, so as to keep a clean cheat.
Cuper usually does not change much in his plans, which depend primarily on defence. Cuper’s defensive scheme, at least to this point, has been predominately zone-based, with each player executing properly, meaning covering the distance within their allotted zones and maintaining their spatial integrity. Cuper’s system is also based on the principle of gap control, relying on sending the ball to Said, the team’s main playmaker, in the midfield to create chances through passing the ball to the right, left, or in depth.
Normally, Egypt relies on Salah’s aggressive play and enormous pace, but Cuper now has to depend on Trezeguet, who can be the team’s key player in the absence of Salah. Trezeguet is also an aggressive player with plenty of pace. He mainly plays in the left wing, however he can strike from different directions, assisted by the highly experienced Abdel Shafy. Both wingers will have a big role in Cuper’s plan that will depend on sending cross balls to Mohsen in Uruguay’s 18-yard box.
Uruguay respects the Pharaohs
The Uruguayan team’s press statements showed much respect for the Pharaohs, as Atletico Madrid’s defender Jose Maria Gimenez said: “The Egyptian team is very strong, especially in defence, so we have to be special on the offensive side.” He added: “They have fast players, but we have the strength to face them, we only have to keep cool.”
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez has established a strong mentality for the team. He has been coach since 2006, and with so much time in charge, he has been able to instil into his team a playing style that will suit them in the World Cup. Uruguay are a team that play a stable 4-4-2 that looks to defend first and seal the opposition out after taking the lead. They rely on sending direct passes to the duo Suarez and Cavani, who are very clinical in front of the goal.
Atletico Madrid defender Diego Godín will lead the team’s defensive line with Gimenez, Maximiliano Pereira, and Martin Caceres. Suarez and Cavani form a key partnership upfront and we can expect the duo to start in the old fashioned 4-4-2 formation. A flat four midfield of Christian Rodriguez, Matías Vecino, Rodrigo Bentancur, and Gastón Ramirez is expected to provide the much-needed shield for the back four and have control in the midfield.