African nations have suffered a bruising opening to the 2018 World Cup and Egypt are set to turn to the continent's finest player in a bid to bring about a change of fortunes against hosts Russia in Group A.
Nigeria's 2-0 loss to Croatia on Saturday meant the CAF representatives had played three, lost three, failed to score and all conceded from set-piece situations.
Jose Gimenez's 89th-minute winner for Uruguay against Egypt was watched from the sidelines by Mohamed Salah, who remained in cold storage on the bench despite pre-match claims from veteran boss Hector Cuper that the Liverpool superstar was "almost 100 per cent" fit following his shoulder injury.
The Egyptian Football Federation (EFA) laid that decision solely at Cuper's door, maintaining the 26-year-old was fit to face Uruguay but deemed not ready for the risk.
Denis Cheryshev capped a brace in Russia's opening 5-0 rout of Saudi Arabia with a superb stoppage-time finish but the Spanish-raised midfielder knows all about an esteemed tactician who he expects to make life difficult for his team-mates.
"Saudi Arabia is in the past, we must move on," Cheryshev told FIFA TV. "Egypt are very strong, they've got a good coach in Hector Cuper.
"Whether Mo Salah plays or not, it's going to be a difficult game for us anyway. If he's not there, does that mean our task becomes easy? Not at all.
"If he plays, it will be hard but more interesting. He's one of the best and you always want to compete with the best and win."
It is Russia who will be without a star man this time around, with Alan Dzagoev continuing his rehabilitation from a hamstring strain suffered against Saudi Arabia back in Moscow, as his colleagues chase a victory that would see them progress from the group stage for the first time since the Soviet Union era.
Egypt count right-back Ahmed Fathi as a minor doubt with muscular tightness, while team manager Ihab Leheta is keen to present a united front.
"Our culture as Egyptians means that all our hearts beat as one, and that is what we feel," he said. "Our enthusiasm and determination is increasing all the time and we thank all the Egyptian fans for their support."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Russia – Aleksandr Golovin
CSKA Moscow have reportedly slapped a €25million price tag on the head of opening-day hero Golovin. The 22-year-old was Russia's creative inspiration and crowned a stellar display by dispatching a sumptuous free-kick. Dzagoev's absence means more of the same is required.
Egypt – Mohamed Salah
How could it be anyone else? Despite the subsequent handwringing, Cuper's decision not to play his talisman against Uruguay – Egypt's least-winnable game – was the percentage call in the circumstances. EFA declarations over Salah's fitness are one thing, but whether his stellar 44-goal form from Liverpool this season can be rediscovered is the major source of intrigue.
KEY OPTA STATS
- Egypt have never beaten European opposition at the World Cup, drawing two and losing two of their four games.
- They have also failed to score in each of their last three World Cup matches, last finding the net in the competition against Netherlands at Italia 90.
- Aleksandr Golovin has already been involved in three goals in this World Cup (one goal, two assists). Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, the only player to have been involved in more goals for Russia in a single tournament was Oleg Salenko in 1994 (6 goals, 1 assist).
- Russia’s 5-0 win against Saudi Arabia was the second biggest by a host nation in their opening match at a World Cup tournament, after Italy beating USA 7-1 in 1934.
14. November 2018
|Croatia thrashing means nothing now – Luis Enrique|
|Chelsea and Everton among Arnautovic suitors, claims agent|
|TJ Watt hopes to win NFL sacks race with brother JJ|
|Modric defends Ramos after Lovren comments|
|Southgate hails ´outstanding´ Delph as he talks up England strength in depth|
|No war with Manchester United over Fellaini, insists Martinez|
|Rooney to wear number 10 shirt against USA and receive armband from Delph|
|I don´t feel pressure of Liverpool expectations, claims Klopp|
|Steelers´ Roethlisberger texted Bell but ´didn’t hear back´|
|Reus and Kroos to sit out Germany´s clash with Russia|
|Van Dijk happy to recommend De Ligt if Liverpool ask|
|Sauber announce launch of junior programme|
|No ´breathtaking tennis´ in Djokovic´s win against Zverev|
|Curran: England spinners will be key in Kandy|
|Djokovic charges past Zverev to move closer to ATP Finals progression|
|Messi is a football alien - Malcom|
|Sky´s the limit for Sancho, says Dortmund team-mate Pulisic|
|Radwanska retires from tennis at 29|
|Maybe one day - Pulisic open to Premier League move|
|Suso ´proud´ of Real Madrid speculation but happy at AC Milan|
|Betis president convinced Lo Celso will stay|
|Injured Holder out of Bangladesh tour|
|Germany face relegation, final spots up for grabs - Nations League state of play|
|James Rodriguez out for several weeks with knee injury|
|Curran´s brilliant fifty rescues England´s innings|
|Lenglet: No problem with Dembele at Barca|
|Townsend rings the changes for Springboks clash|
|Claudio Ranieri´s managerial career in Opta numbers|
|Mahmudullah´s first century in eight years boosts Bangladesh|
|Fellaini gets the chop ahead of 31st birthday|
|Maradona: Solari will not last at Real Madrid|
|Molinari: Race to Dubai success would not surpass Ryder Cup glory with Fleetwood|
|Dortmund star Sancho was a Bayern target, confirms Salihamidzic|
|Gerrard enjoying ´buzz´ of management|
|Hamilton questions approach to Formula One expansion|
|Ranieri honoured to lead ´exceptional´ Fulham squad|
|Solari saw Isco out of shape - Ceballos|
|Ranieri replaces Jokanovic at Fulham|
|Durant keeps details of Green spat ´in-house´ but envisages resolution|
|Rooney: Kane and Sterling are England superstars|
|Messi will make Argentina return, says Maradona|
|Warriors drop Hawks as Green serves suspension|
|In-form Healy sends Australia into semis|
|Former NBA star McGrady says Carmelo Anthony should retire|
|Celtics´ Smart: We have to look at ourselves in the mirror|
|Federer plays down preferential treatment talk|
|Mourinho is better than Guardiola – Maradona|
|Mbappe plays down Pele comparisons|
|Don´t worry bro – Mendy responds to Trump|
|Melvin, Snitker win manager of the year awards|
|Warriors´ Green suspended for Hawks clash|
|Asensio: It´s not for me to lead Madrid|
|Rooney ready to enjoy England farewell after pressure of ´Golden Generation´|
13. November 2018
|Ludwigsburg stun high-flying Murcia in BCL|
|Rams v Chiefs moved to LA due to Mexico City field conditions|
|Skriniar discussing new Inter contract, confirms agent|
|Former Barcelona boss Martino named MLS Coach of the Year|
|Bell fails to report to Steelers, will sit out rest of season|
|Federer back on track after dismal Thiem display|
|Udinese appoint Nicola after sacking Velazquez|
|Monaco deny they broke rules regarding youth recruitment|
|Del Bosque, Zidane, Lopetegui - The former Castilla coaches Solari follows into Real Madrid hot seat|
|Ozil rejected ´crazy offers´ from Asia, reveals agent|
|Real Madrid appoint Solari on permanent basis|
|LeVert avoids need for surgery, should return this season|
|Neuer confident despite concerns over Bayern Munich form|
|All I ever wanted to do is win, says Sixers signing Butler|
|Pogba: Coming home to United was the best feeling ever|
|Watson among four signing new Bath deals|
|Susanna Dinnage to replace Scudamore as Premier League chief executive|