Mohamed Salah’s injury could not have come at a worse time. Liverpool’s newly anointed superstar was wrapping up a dream club season that featured 44 goals in 52 appearances and culminated in Kiev with a shot at ending Real Madrid’s Champions League dominance. Instead of capping a perfect season by mounting Ronaldo’s head on a spike, world-class asshole Sergio Ramos spiked Salah’s shoulder into the turf, knocking it out of its socket and knocking Salah out of the match just half an hour in. Salah’s dream immediately turned into a nightmare.
His prognosis? Roughly three weeks of recovery, a period which thankfully won’t rule him out of the entire World Cup. Those three weeks will be up just after Egypt’s first World Cup match on June 15th against Uruguay. Salah most likely will play in Russia, that much is all but certain. What’s less clear is in what kind of form Salah will be in once he takes to the pitch. Which is a damn shame, since he is Egypt’s team, and a healthy Salah could have made the Pharaohs a legit threat in this group and possibly even beyond.
As it stands, Egypt still have a chance to advance out of Group A in what will be their first World Cup appearance since 1990. Despite three African Cup of Nations titles in the 2000's, the Egyptians have only three World Cup appearances in their entire history, and they’ve never won a single game at the big tournament. That could change in Russia, as Group A contains Russia, Uruguay, and Saudi Arabia—none of which are exactly 1970 Brazil. Uruguay should kick everyone’s ass, but after that it’s pretty much anyone’s guess.
Egypt are built around a strong core of Premier League players and a great deal of experience. Their defense only conceded four times in the final stage of qualification, and the zippy defensive protection Mohamed El Neny offers should keep the backline comfortable against most opponents. Their only problem is that they basically rely on Salah alone for the important business of scoring goals. Without him, they will struggle to mount much of anything resembling a credible attack.
Thankfully, Salah should be fit and raring to go for the Saudi Arabia and Russia games, and those two matches will be the decisive ones for Egypt’s hopes of making it out of the group. If Salah is back and looking anything like himself, Egypt have a great shot at advancing. And with a stalwart defense providing a solid platform from which one of the world’s most lethal forwards can attack, a Round of 16 match isn’t all the Egyptians should be gunning for.
Goalkeepers: Essam El Hadary (Al Taawoun), Mohamed El Shennawy (Al Ahly), Sherif Ekramy (Al Ahly)
Defenders: Ahmed Fathy (Al Ahly), Saad Samir (Al Ahly), Ayman Ashraf (Al Ahly), El Wensh (Zamalek), Mohamed Abdel Shafy (Al Fateh), Ahmed Hegazi (West Brom), Ali Gabr (Zamalek), Ahmed Elmohamady (Aston Villa), Omar Gaber (Los Angeles FC)
Midfielders: Tarek Hamed, (Zamalek), Shikabala (Al Raed), Abdallah Said (Kuopion Palloseura), Sam Morsy (Wigan Athletic), Mohamed El Neny (Arsenal), Ramadan Sobhi (Stoke City), Trézéguet (Kasımpaşa), Amr Warda (Atromitos Athens)
Forwards: Marwan Mohsen (Al Ahly), Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Kahraba (Al Ittihad)
Players To Watch
Mohamed Salah, Forward
Salah’s 2017-18 campaign wasn’t just the best of his career; it was also one of the single greatest seasons in Premier League history. His 32 league goals are the most ever in a 38-game season, and his 44 goals in all competitions is an equally incredible figure. In a just world, he wins that Champions League final, gets the Ballon d’Or, and does not have the climax of his career ruined by an asshole’s decision to bodyslam his shoulder out of its socket. Salah doesn’t need any of those honors to legitimize what he’s done this year, but it would’ve been nice. Hopefully he can settle for a hero’s return in the World Cup and a few goals to make Egypt’s tournament as good as it should be.
Salah is the platonic ideal of a counterattacking forward. He’s as fast as the devil is bad and never ever hesitates to shoot when he gets even the slimmest of windows. His dribbling is terrifying, his decision making in the attacking third is fantastic, and his ability to smash the ball into the back of the net once he makes it there is even better. Perhaps the most illustrative performance of the breadth of Salah’s gifts was his one-man deconstruction of the Roma backline.
Good lord, I hope he’s actually healthy. Egypt needs it, he deserves it, and we spectators will miss out on something great if Salah’s not Salah on the biggest stage of the sport.
How The Team Plays
They’ll line up in a 4-2-3-1, with West Brom duo Ali Gabr and Ahmed Hegazi manning the center of their defense and El Neny and Tarek Hamed ahead giving them cover. Egypt will not try to possess the ball a whole not, and they have a stout enough defense and the 45-year-old (!!!) legend Essam El Hadary manning the goalposts. El Hadary will soon become the oldest man to play in a World Cup, and he’s been playing professional soccer since before several of his teammates were born. El Neny is a feisty athlete in the middle and he’ll look to spring Salah, Mahmoud Trezeguet, and Ahmed “Kouka” Hassan for counters. If you dig quick, deadly counterattacking rushes, you’ll like Egypt.
Group A Fixtures
All times Eastern
June 15, 8 a.m.: Egypt vs. Uruguay at Ekaterinburg Arena
June 19, 2 p.m.: Egypt vs. Russia at Saint Petersburg Arena
June 25, 10 a.m.: Egypt vs. Saudi Arabia at Volograd Arena