World Cup 2018 team preview: Egypt will need more than just Mohamed Salah

Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ team-by-team 2018 World Cup previews. With less than a month to go until this summer’s tournament, it’s time to get familiar with each of the 32 teams participating in Russia. Next up in Group A is Egypt.

For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and return as all 32 team previews and eight group previews roll in.

Outlook

Odds to win Group A: 14.3%
Odds to advance: 44.4%
Odds to win World Cup: 0.7%
Elo rank: 52
Yahoo Sports power rank: 18

Our writers say: Led by the English Premier League’s best player in Mohamed Salah, the Pharaohs are making their first World Cup appearance since 1990. It could be a memorable return: Group A is as survivable as any in the competition, and Salah, who set a new Prem record with 32 goals this season, can win a game on his own. Doug McIntyre

(Odds via BetOnline, converted to percentages – and therefore slightly exaggerated)

Mohammed Salah was the Player of the Year in the Premier League. Can that form carry over to Russia? (EFE)
Mohammed Salah was the Player of the Year in the Premier League. Can that form carry over to Russia? (EFE)

Basics

World Cup appearance: 3rd
Best World Cup finish: Group stage (1934, 1990)
2014 finish: Did not qualify
Qualifying: Topped Africa’s Group E ahead of Uganda, Ghana
Schedule: Uruguay (Friday, June 15, 8 a.m., FS1), Russia (Tuesday, June 19, 2 p.m., Fox), Saudi Arabia (Monday, June 25, 10 a.m., Fox/FS1)

Squad

Manager: Hector Cuper
Captain: Essam El-Hadary (G)
Top players: Mohamed Salah (F), Mohamed Elneny (M), Ahmed Hegazi (D)
Full 23-man (or preliminary) squad

Breakdown

Why they’ll win games: Because they have Salah, and can therefore commit 10 other players to defending. (That’s an exaggeration, but not as much of an exaggeration as you might think.)

Why they’ll lose games: Let’s just say Salah doesn’t exactly have Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane around him. Some portion of his brilliance is completely independent of teammates and situation, but he’ll have significantly fewer chances to impact games with Egypt than he often has with Liverpool. His teammates, restrained by a defensive system, simply aren’t capable of impacting games. And that defensive system papers over some cracks in defense that could be exposed by World Cup-caliber foes.

How they’ll play: Defensively. Very defensively. Compact and cautious. Think West Brom, but with Salah as the outlet on the right wing.

Projected lineup (4-2-3-1): Essam El-Hadary; Ahmed Fathy, Ahmed Hegazi, Ali Gabr, Mohamed Abdel Shafy; Tarek Hamed, Mohamed Elneny; Mohamed Salah, Abdallah El-Said, Trezeguet; Koka.

El-Hadary – who, at 45, would become the oldest player to ever appear at a World Cup – is not a lock to start in goal. Neither is Said in midfield, nor Koka up front. Ramadan Sobhi is a top option to replace one of the attack-minded players, or make an impact off the bench.

Rooting Guide

What makes them unique: Egypt’s World Cup qualification is a tremendous story that probably begins in 2006, when the Pharaohs won the African Cup of Nations on home soil. Then they won again in 2008, and 2010. But they suffered World Cup heartbreak, missing out on South Africa 2010 after losing a playoff to Algeria, then suffering the same fate four years later at the hands of Ghana. All the while, the domestic game was reeling from the Port Said stadium disaster in 2012. The Egyptian Premier League was suspended. Uncertainty reigned. But the national team has recovered, and qualified for a World Cup in dramatic fashion for the first time in 28 years.

Why to root for them: Because of all this.

Why to root against them: Salah is fantastic, but if he’s neutralized, there’s potential for some dreadfully dull soccer.

If you’re going to watch one game … There’s a chance Egypt enters the final day of the group needing not only a win, but a beatdown of Saudi Arabia – a Saudi Arabia team that is overmatched but willing to come out of its shell. So there’s potential for a legendary five-goal Salah outburst.

More Yahoo Sports World Cup team previews

Group A: Russia | Saudi Arabia | Egypt | Uruguay
Group B: Portugal | Spain | Morocco | Iran
Group C: France | Australia | Peru | Denmark
Group D: Argentina | Iceland | Croatia | Nigeria
Group E: Brazil | Switzerland | Costa Rica | Serbia
Group F: Germany | Mexico | Sweden | South Korea
Group G: Belgium | Panama | Tunisia | England
Group H: Poland | Senegal | Colombia | Japan

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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