Coming in the wake of a 5 nil win for hosts Russia over the frazzled Saudi Arabia, Egypt, in the space of a powerful header from the imperious Atletico Madrid rising star, Jose Giménez, have found themselves likely needing two victories to qualify from the open Group A. Here are the takeaways for our featured team, Egypt after one set of matches in Group A:
1. Egypt are solid all round but unspectacular without Salah
Egypt were never setting the world alight without Mohamed Salah on the pitch, but the midfield turned in a workmanlike performance to create the most boring match of the tournament to date. Uruguay were narrow and solid, trying to rely on the talents of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, but El Matador struggled to get involved until late and the Barcelona man, with his 69% pass completion and sloppiness, had a day to forget.
Mohamed Elneny looked one of the more creative presences, and if you know the man from Arsenal, then you know that cannot be a good thing. It was perhaps folly to expect much more given that they lined up with Tarek Hamed and Elneny in the pivot. This team is designed to stay solid and wait for Salah brilliance. It wasn’t forthcoming today.
2. Godin and Gimenez will be difficult to break down
The Atletico Madrid pair were at their imposing best today, albeit against a team that weren’t asking the right questions. Uruguay are shaping up to be one of those teams that makes an unexpected run on the backs of close victories and tight margins. It’s tough to see them running amok on anybody outside of Saudi Arabia, but Portugal or Spain won’t be too happy playing a team with such high class central defenders and the might of Cavani and Suarez up front.
Godin was the man to start most attacks from their solid base by streaking forward to release to either of Rodrigo Bentancur and Matias Vecino who had 207 touches of the ball between them. Uruguay are, along with Portugal, a live threat to any team that plays narrow because of their ability to defend in numbers and hit teams on the counter via their superstars. Uruguay have one of the best spines in the tournament, and despite not being the most attractive to watch or the best in all round quality could spring a surprise if they get the right second round matchup. Underestimate their upset causing potential at your own peril.
3. Egypt need the Scarlet Speedster
Hector Cuper has this to say about not playing Salah at all in their opener. “We were quite certain in the training session that he would be able to play. At the end of the training session, he was examined by the doctors and there was some doubt. Now, this is a calculated risk by also not taking the risk. Egypt have essentially hung their hopes on defeating both Saudi Arabia and Russia.
While Saudi Arabia should pose no threat, what with their incredible naiveté, Russia are worthy opponents on home soil. High off the backs of a romp, Russia may only need a draw against Egypt to progress. However, a fit and firing Salah would more than likely expose the averageness of Russia’s defense with his unmatched pace and guile in tight spaces and across the expanse of the right side. After one round of matches, not much has changed, but Russia certainly have disqualified Saudi Arabia as well as put Egypt on the back foot.