With less than three months remaining until the kick-off of Africa’s showpiece football festival in Egypt, we take our first guess at what the host nation’s squad may look like, including how the starting XI could deploy.
Three months can be an eternity in football. Form rises and dips, and injuries are an inevitable part of the game. Thus, our list can and likely will change in subsequent editions.
To clarify, this is who we think manager Javier Aguirre may call up for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), not necessarily the squad we’d like to see.
Without further ado, onto our first Egypt AFCON mock 23.
Mohamed El-Shenawy (Ahly), Ahmed El-Shenawy (Pyramids), Mahmoud Gennesh (Zamalek)
This line of thinking is pretty straight-forward. Mohamed El-Shenawy emerged as Essam El-Hadary’s successor before and during last summer’s World Cup. He’ll be backed-up by starters on two other of Egypt’s top clubs, and have already earned previous call-ups by Aguirre.
Ahmed Hegazy (West Brom, ENG), Ali Gabr (Pyramids), Baher Elmohamady (Ismaily), Mahmoud El-Wensh (Zamalek), Ayman Ashraf, Mohamed Hany (Ahly), Ahmed Elmohamady (Aston Villa, ENG), Karim Hafez (Kasımpaşa, TUR)
Hegazy, Baher Elmohamady, and Gabr seem to be clear favorites of Aguirre’s at centerback. There should be a second reserve spot open and it’s anyone’s guess as to who will fill it. It could be El-Wensh, as we currently have, or perhaps his Zamalek teammate Mahmoud Alaa.
Alaa had a rough day during Egypt’s AFCON qualifying finale in Niger, with a mistake at the back and an injury that forced him out in the second half. He probably deserves another shot, but until then we’re going with El-Wensh to grab the final spot in central defense. Another unlikely name to keep an eye on is New York Red Bulls centerback Amro Tarek.
Ashraf and Ahmed Elmohamady appear to have cemented their roles at fullback/wing-back. Who will play behind them is less certain.
Aguirre seems to be grooming Hany for the right side, having given the Al Ahly youngster plenty of minutes in the recent matches against Niger and Nigeria. Karim Hafez, meanwhile, may have played himself into the opposite reserve spot after what was perhaps his best display in an Egypt shirt against Niger.
Aly Ghazal (CD Feirense, POR), Mohamed ElNeny (Arsenal, ENG), Tarek Hamed (Zamalek), Hussein El-Shahat (Ahly), Islam Gaber (Dakhleya), Amr Warda (Atromitos, GRE), Mahmoud Trezeguet (Kasımpaşa, GRE), Nabil Emad (Pyramids, EGY)
There are at least three spots open in the middle, with Ghazal, ElNeny, Hamed, Warda, and Trezeguet looking to be the only sure bets. Who fills these openings will be determined in the coming months, but if we had to guess right now, Gaber and Emad impressed just enough in the ample minutes they were given over the international break.
Gaber showed quickness and an ability to shoot with power and accuracy from distance, something the rest of the squad couldn’t seem to muster in the stifling heat and humidity of Niger and Nigeria. He still has plenty to work on, granted.
Emad, who many in Egypt know as “Dunga,” was not overly impressive, but did his job reliably and showed impressive stamina in an oppressive climate. He was not intimidated by the international game and may have fared even better if he was surrounded by Egypt’s more regular personnel.
Salah Mohsen, Marwan Mohsen (Ahly), Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Kouka (Olympiacos, GRE)
Rounding out our first projected list of 23 are some consensus choices up-front. Mohamed Salah needs no introduction, and Egypt’s lack of classic center-forwards means Kouka and Marwan Mohsen get the nod almost by default.
Salah Mohsen, who already seems to be a regular fixture for Aguirre, should also make the squad. Though he likely won’t start, the promising 20-year-old is versatile enough to play on the wings or in the middle and is sure to benefit from his first-ever international tournament.
With our first mock squad now established, here’s how we currently expect it to be deployed.
Aguirre has favored two distinct setups in his five matches at Egypt’s helm thus far: A 3-6-1/3-4-3 that melds together familiar Egypt systems of the 1990s and 2000s and the more modern utilization of wing-forwards, and a more basic 4-5-1.
The team has appeared a bit more balanced in the former, so I’d expect to see that in June, especially against tougher opposition. Though defense has looked shaky at times in both formations, it has been especially porous in the 4-5-1.
Ghazal has looked right at home in the libero role, ascending and descending between central defense and defensive midfield. He offers the ability to launch attacks from the back and the security of an extra central defender that’s harder to come by in Aguirre’s 4-5-1.
This is the key difference between the two setups, in addition to allowing the left and right defenders to act more as wingbacks than traditional fullbacks, advancing higher up the pitch while some combination of ElNeny, Hamed, and Ghazal cover the empty spaces behind them.
We’ll be issuing updates to our 23-man squad as needed. In the meantime, let’s hope for a healthy list of options from which Aguirre and his staff can choose come June.