We’re just hours from finding out which 23 players will be traveling to Russia as part of Egypt’s first World Cup squad since 1990.
You can call it ‘the calm before the storm,’ because the criticisms will be coming fast and furious once fans see what’s in store.
This is, of course, just a prediction, but manager Hector Cuper’s three-year tenure at the Pharaohs’ helm portends what his choices will be. Subsequently, they really shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Without further ado:
Essam El-Hadary, Sherif Ekramy, Mohamed Awad
Ahmed Hegazi, Ali Gabr, Saad Samir, Mahmoud El-Wensh, Mohamed Abdelshafy, Ahmed Fathi, Ahmed Elmohamady, Karim Hafez
Tarek Hamed, Mahmoud Abdelaziz, Shikabala, Abdalla El-Said, Mohamed ElNeny, Ramadan Sobhi, Mahmoud Trezeguet, Amr Warda, Mohamed Salah, Mahmoud Kahraba
Marwan Mohsen, Kouka
El-Hadary, at 45 years old, is still set to start for Egypt in Russia. It’s an amazing story, but also an indictment of the sad state of goalkeeping in Egypt.
Behind him is a veritable wasteland. Ekramy will get the backup nod by default, simply due to Mohamed El-Shenawy’s bizarre showing in Egypt’s scoreless draw with Colombia and Awad’s shaky showing in limited opportunities, namely against Greece.
El-Shenawy had the inside track as the third-choice and was clearly Cuper’s favorite for the position. But a series of poor decisions that could have cost Egypt dearly against Colombia probably played him out of the squad altogether.
The Argentine tactician doesn’t always follow conventional wisdom though, so it wouldn’t be too shocking of El-Shenawy makes it over the Ismaily net-minder.
Cuper will take four centerbacks to Russia, of that I’m sure.
Ahmed Hegazi, Ali Gabr, and Saad Samir are shoe-ins. Amro Tarek has gotten no action since being recalled to the squad. That only leaves Zamalek’s Mahmoud El-Wensh as the fourth option at the position.
There will also be four fullbacks, a backup and starter on each side.
Gaber played himself out of the squad with his atrocious display against Kuwait. That leaves Fathi and Elmohamady as starting and reserve right-back respectively.
The left side is much tougher to forecast. Abdelshafy will start in Russia, but despite a bad mistake against Kuwait, Ayman Ashraf showed solid potential as his backup.
If it were up to me, Ashraf would be the second left-back in the squad, but I think Cuper will go with the more familiar face in Hafez.
The RC Lens product has shown progress in Cuper’s system, despite his propensity for pushing forward.
Cuper values reliable defensive positioning from his fullbacks, so his decision between Hafez and Ashraf will depend on who he feels can provide that better.
Tarek Hamed, Shikabala, Abdalla El-Said, Mohamed ElNeny, Ramadan Sobhi, Mahmoud Trezeguet, Amr Warda, Mohamed Salah, and Mahmoud Kahraba should be locks.
Mahmoud Abdelaziz is the player that helped himself the most during Egypt’s latest slate of friendlies. He was strong, technical, reliable, and confident. I think he both deserves the nod over Sam Morsy and that Cuper will give it to him.
This isn’t a knock on Morsi, who was solid and showed progress against Colombia.
It’s possible that Cuper favors Morsy over the new kid on the block, but he’d have a hard time defending the choice as one made for merit.
It would make all the sense in the world for Egypt to take three strikers to the World Cup, but given Cuper’s proclivities, the 23-player limit, and FIFA’s insistence that teams bring three goalkeepers, the fact is that Egypt will end up with only two pure forwards in Russia; Mohsen and Kouka.
I hate to be the bearer of this alarming news, especially given how short-handed Egypt found itself at the position during their 2017 Africa Cup of Nations run, but it’s a numbers game. The odd man out in a Hector Cuper 23-player roster will be the third striker.
Keep in mind that Cuper views Kahraba, Warda, and even Salah (if healthy) as players who could fill-in as the team’s lone striker in a pinch.
A tiger doesn’t change its stripes, so to expect any departure from the norm when it comes to Cuper’s final squad is to delude one’s self.
To summarize, Awad vs. El-Shennawy (goalkeeper), Hafez vs. Ashraf (defense), and Abdelaziz vs. Morsy (midfield) are the biggest question marks.
The MLS duo of Gaber and Tarek are almost certainly out of the squad, much to the chagrin of Egypt fans in North America. Gaber has simply been the third-best right-back and Tarek has been absent from Egypt’s friendlies.
I have considerable difficulty envisioning how Cuper will take three strikers. Mohsen and Kouka will have to carry the load, which could be problematic if Egypt plans on playing more than its three allotted Group A matches.
We know how this team will approach things. It’ll sit-back, concede possession and absorb pressure. It’ll occasionally press high when possible and try to steal a goal on the counter-attack. Egypt’s final 23-man roster will reflect a squad with these exact aspirations.
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