ST PETERSBURG, June 18, 2018 (News Wires) - Egypt's Mohamed Salah is a looming obstacle as Russia attempt to virtually secure their place in the knockout stages of the World Cup in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday.
Fears that poor performances from the home side could dampen enthusiasm in the host nation were blown away by a 5-0 demolition of Saudi Arabia in the opening game.
The seven-time African champions will pose a much tougher task, but a lot will depend upon Salah's fitness.
Liverpool star Salah has not featured since leaving the field in tears early in the Champions League final just over three weeks ago after landing heavily on his left shoulder and had to watch from the bench as Egypt lost 1-0 to Uruguay in their opening game.
Salah has been declared 100 percent fit by Egypt's team doctor and his agent, leaving little doubt he will be thrown back into action in the Pharaohs' hour of need.
However, as he returned to training on Saturday, Salah was seen by AFP reporters at Egypt's training camp in Grozny needing help from teammates to lift a training top over his head.
"Salah participated in training with his teammates for the entire session and he is ready to play against Russia according to technical staff," Egypt's team manager Ihab Leheta told FIFA.com.
Egypt coach Hector Cuper's decision not to risk Salah against Uruguay may have been influenced by the fact his side held out for 89 minutes before conceding to Jose Gimenez, by which time the Argentine had made all three of his substitutions.
"Russia's game is fateful and difficult because of our defeat against Uruguay," said Leheta. "Winning is our only choice".
Most important game
If fully fit, the sight of Salah, who scored 44 goals in a remarkable debut season at Liverpool, will strike fear into the Russians.
Concerns Russia could become just the second host nation to bow out of the World Cup at the group stage after a seven-game winless run ahead of the tournament have been alleviated by a perfect start.
With Uruguay favourites to top the group, though, Russia are keen not to have to rely on getting something from their final group game against the two-time former world champions.
"The second game will be our most important one in the group stage," said Russia's deputy prime minister and former football federation president Vitaly Mutko after attending Russia's training session on Sunday.
A close ally of President Vladimir Putin, Mutko oversaw preparations for the tournament at a cost of more than $13 billion.
"In the first match, everyone saw how much the players cared. If we play up to our level, I don't see any problems."
Denis Cheryshev was Russia's hero against Saudi Arabia as he came off the bench to score twice.
And the Villarreal winger accepted it will be a more "interesting" clash if Salah is fit.
"If he's not there, does that mean our task becomes easy? Not at all," he told FIFA.com "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."
Russia will be without one of their key players, with Alan Dzagoev expected to miss the rest of the tournament with a hamstring injury.
ST PETERSBURG, June 17, 2018 (News Wires) - Russia got their World Cup campaign off to a dream start with a 5-0 thumping of Saudi Arabia but face an entirely different beast in the form of Egypt, who should be revitalized by the return of their talismanic striker Mohamed Salah.
The hosts face the north Africans in St Petersburg on Tuesday and defeat would almost certainly condemn Egypt to an early exit.
Russia top Group A on goal difference ahead of favorites Uruguay, who needed a last-gasp goal to scrape past a dogged Egypt 1-0 in their first game of the tournament.
Egypt, coached by Argentine Hector Cuper, are still targeting a second-placed finish in the group, but must beat Russia to have any hope of achieving that goal.
Cuper’s team showed against Uruguay they will not defend as generously as the hapless Saudis, and Salah, who should make his first start, will relish the chance to torment Russia’s aging defense.
Coach Stanislav Cherchesov started center back Sergei Ignashevich, 38, and full back Yuri Zhirkov, 34, in the first match, and if the Russia coach sticks with the same duo, Egypt and Salah could capitalize.
The 26-year-old’s birthday was ruined by the Uruguay defeat and he spent the match on the bench as Cuper elected not to risk his star man, who is making his return from a shoulder injury.
While Zhirkov still has plenty of pace, he will find it hard to cope with the lightning-quick Salah, who cut a swathe of destruction through European defenses for Liverpool last season while coming in from the right wing on to his lethal left foot.
Ignashevich’s experience is an asset but his age counts against him and any attempt to double up on Salah will free up Mahmoud Hassan, better known by his nickname “Trezeguet”, on the opposite flank.
The 23-year-old proved to be a handful against Uruguay and Russia’s Brazil-born right back Mario Fernandes will need all his wits about him to keep Trezeguet quiet.
While Egypt are strengthened immeasurably by Salah’s return, Russia will be weakened by the absence of creative midfielder Alan Dzagoev, who was injured during their opening match.
Dzagoev was replaced by Denis Cheryshev, who earned himself instant cult status with a well-taken brace.
After entering the tournament ranked a lowly 70th in the world, expectations around Russia were subdued, with many fans believing the team might prove an embarrassment.
The opening win has put those fears to rest, but the confidence now flowing through the Russian ranks could be their undoing.
Egypt are set up to play on the counter-attack, with Cuper asking his midfielders and defenders to stick close together in two rigid banks of four and restrict the spaces that opponents seek to exploit.
The game plan is simple - get the ball into Salah’s feet quickly and let him do what he does best.
If he is match fit, Russia will be hard pressed to stop him helping Egypt to their first victory at a World Cup.
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (News Wires) - Mohamed Salah has the perfect chance to start Egypt's World Cup party and put Russia's on hold when he returns for a crucial match on Tuesday at 8:00 pm Cairo Local Time.
Egypt needs his mercurial talent and scoring touch, for defeat will end Egypt's World Cup outright if Uruguay beats Saudi Arabia on Wednesday in the other Group A game.
Salah's recovery from injury has become an ongoing mini-drama for Egypt fans, although their devotion is understandable considering he netted 44 goals in 51 games for Liverpool in his first season and has 33 in 57 for Egypt overall. Last Friday, Pharaohs fans watched in frustration as Egypt failed to break down an obdurate Uruguay lineup.
Salah, too, cut a disconsolate and frustrated figure on the bench as his team lost 1-0 to a late goal. Hardly a fitting way to celebrate his 26th birthday.
GROZNY, June 17, 2018 (News Wires) - Egypt’s super striker Mohamed Salah needed help from three teammates pulling on a jersey over his injured shoulder Saturday.
The Pharaohs’ best hope in making the last 16 of a World Cup for the first time since 1990 has been having an eventful time at his team’s base camp in the Chechen capital Grozny.
Salah watched from the bench as Egypt succumbed to an 89th minute header by defender Jose Gimenez in a 1-0 loss to Uruguay on Friday.
He returned to training on Saturday but was spotted employing the help of three teammates pulling on his top.
The team doctor nevertheless pronounced the Liverpool star “100 per cent ready” to play in Egypt’s second match against host nation Russia in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday.
But Salah at least he can take comfort in a 100-kilogramme (60 pound) birthday cake he was confronted with on his 26th birthday on Friday.
A video released by the Chechen authorities that has gone viral showed Salah leisurely walking into his hotel lobby suspecting nothing and listening to music on his headphones.
He began smiling meekly and suspecting something was not right when a hotel employee shot confetti in his face.
Then Salah spotted the giant cake sitting on a lacquered table. Topped with a golden boot, the towering structure was topped with layers of candles that surely added up to more than 26.
A Chechen man in a smart suit immediately ran up to Salah with a microphone in apparent expectation of a thank you speech.
Salah did not oblige while smiling shyly and profusely. Salah was well out sight by the time the cake was sliced.
Egypt’s decision to make Grozny their World Cup hope has been roundly criticised by human rights groups because of the Chechen authorities’ deadly persecution of all forms of dissent.
GROZNY, June 17, 2018 (MENA) - Egyptian professional footaballer Mohamed Salah did not ask the coaching staff of the team to partake in the match played against Uruguay on Friday, Manager of the national football team Ihab Leheta said.
In press statements on Saturday, Leheta said Hector Cuper, the team coach, is the only person who is responsible for the players' participation in the matches, denying that Salah had urged the coaching staff to play in the 2nd half of the match.
It is natural that Salah was feeling sad over not participating in the match as well as the team's loss but he will be ready to play in the next two matches against Russia and Saudi Arabia, added Leheta.
Meanwhile, Leheta hailed Mohamed El Shenawi, the team goalkeeper, over his performance during the game.
The national team will travel on Sunday to Saint Petersburg to train at the Saint Petersburg Stadium before facing their Russian counterpart on Tuesday, Leheta noted.
YEKATERINBURG, June 14, 2018 (News Wires) - Egypt superstar Mohamed Salah has recovered from a shoulder injury and will play in their World Cup opener against Uruguay, coach Hector Cuper has confirmed.
"I can almost assure you 100 per cent that he will play, save unforeseen circumstances at the very last minute," Cuper said ahead of Friday's Group A match.
The 25-year-old injured shoulder ligaments in the Champions League final defeat by Real Madrid on May 26 and has not played since.
"We're trying to make him feel confident - even the doctors are giving him the option to play or not, but I know Salah very well and I'm sure he's not afraid, he's not fearful," Cuper added.
"In terms of him on the pitch - if he does decide to play he'll have full guarantees in terms of his physical condition, he's going to be fine. Certainly he doesn't feel afraid."
Asked about Salah's chances of starring at the tournament, Cuper said: "Why not? He could become the top goalscorer here and one of the greatest players."
Ihab Leheta, the national team manager, told Reuters by phone: "The medical staff will provide a comprehensive report on the condition of Salah tomorrow and the coach will not rush in his decision."
Salah left the field in tears after sustaining a shoulder ligament injury while playing for Liverpool in last month's Champions League final loss to Real Madrid.
Since then, Egypt's fans have been tortured by the possibility that their first appearance in the World Cup finals for 28 years could be ruined by the loss of their biggest star, who netted 44 goals for Liverpool in his first season at Anfield.
"We cried with him," said Samy Mikhail, an Egyptian Australian from Sydney who predicted that Egypt without Salah would suffer the same fate as Liverpool against Real.
"Without him, Liverpool collapsed. Egypt depends on him so much... If he gets injured again, it's over."
Mikhail and his nine-year-old son Luke were among several-dozen Egyptians who cheered and chanted Salah's name as the players arrived at their Yekaterinburg hotel on Wednesday evening.
But some fans interviewed at the hotel and the airport were cautious about bringing Salah back from injury too soon.
"He's very important and I don't think we should risk him in the first match. It is better to let him rest. Our performance will be 60-70 percent without him," said one supporter, Mohamed Mohsen.
"He's a hero to the nation and you wouldn't want to risk his health going forward. It's a big loss if he doesn't play but he's really loved in Egypt and nobody would want to see him hurt," said another, Mohamed Shehata.
Whether he plays or not, there is no doubting the commitment of the Egypt fans who have travelled from around the world to Yekaterinburg, 1,760 km (1,100 miles) east of Moscow.
"It took 44 hours to come over here," said Mohamed Kemal, who is from Houston, Texas. "And I am here for the team and we are going to be very loud in the stadium on Friday."
Egypt will also face hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia in the group stage.