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BY SAMSON MBII,DESK,15TH JUNE 2018-Egypt kick off their third World Cup adventure with a match against Uruguay, a nation which has won the tournament twice and hosted its first ever instalment in 1930.
The two sides will be hoping to get their Group A campaign off to a positive start as both have been tipped to challenge hosts Russia for the top spot and a more favourable draw in the last-16 of the competition.
Hector Cuper‘s Egypt may have won the Africa Cup of Nations a record seven times, but they are relatively inexperienced when it comes to the World Cup, and that could well be a deciding factor against a seasoned Uruguay side.
The Pharaohs are making their first appearance at international football’s premier competition since 1990, and they may have to play their opening match without the man who sent them there.
Free-scoring Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah buried a dramatic late penalty against Congo last October to fire his country to the finals in Russia, but has been struggling with a shoulder injury since the Champions League final.
Inspired by Salah, the Pharaohs qualified for the World Cup as group winners ahead of Uganda, Ghana and Congo with a game to spare, but have struggled in recent fixtures without him.
Cuper’s men head to the finals on a winless run spanning six matches, although they did impress during a narrow 2-1 defeat to Portugal and a goalless draw with fellow World Cup qualifiers Colombia.
Cuper, however, has instilled defensive discipline into his side since taking charge in 2015 and has lost just one match by more than a single-goal margin during his tenure.
The Pharaohs’ problems at present lie very much at the other end of the field, since they have scored only once in four matches since Salah sustained injury, and that came in a 1-1 draw with Kuwait.
Without their talismanic forward, Egypt head into the match against Uruguay as the underdogs and may need to rely on results against Russia and Saudi Arabia to stand any chance of making it through the group stage
As two-time World Cup winners, Uruguay are technically the most successful team in Group A, though it should be pointed out that the last time they lifted the trophy was back in 1950.
Their best performance since then was in 2010 when they reached the semi-finals, losing 3-2 to beaten finalists the Netherlands before ending up on the wrong side of the same scoreline against Germany in the third-place playoff.
La Celeste are the favourites to top Group A, not least because of their front pairing of Edison Cavani and Luis Suarez, who scored a combined total of 71 goals in 99 matches between them at club level last season.
Barcelona forward Suarez has 51 goals in 98 games for his country, and can equal the national record for World Cup strikes if he scores at least three in Russia.
On the whole, La Celeste’s form is solid heading into the tournament, with just one defeat and three clean sheets in their last six matches.
That reverse was a 2-1 loss away to Austria, and Oscar Tabarez‘s charges have since put it behind them with 3-0 drubbing of Uzbekistan in their final warm-up game.
Uruguay have reason to be confident in their opener against Egypt, having never lost to African opposition in a World Cup fixture.
Ahead of kickoff, whether Salah will be fit to take part in the match has dominated the headlines.
A number of outlets are reporting that the Uruguay game will come too soon for him, but it sounds like the Liverpool winger could return for one of Egypt’s other group games.
In Salah’s absence, Huddersfield Town’s new signing Ramadan Sobhi is likely to make the starting XI, and he will receive support from creative playmaker Abdallah El-Said.
Mohamed Elneny of Arsenal is almost certain to be handed a key role in the Pharaohs’ midfield, where he will line up alongside Tarek Hamed in what is expected to be a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Uruguay, meanwhile, are expected to make minimal changes to the side which defeat Uzbekistan last time out, although winger Cristian Rodriguez is likely to get the nod ahead of Nahitan Nandez.
Tabarez has options at left-back but may opt for the experience of Martin Caceres over Gaston Silva.
Up front, Cavani is expected to spearhead the attack in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Suarez sitting slightly deep as an advanced playmaker.
Rising Sampdoria star Lucas Torreira is likely to start the game on the bench.
Egypt possible starting lineup:
El Hadary; Abdel-Shafi, Gabr, Hegazy, Ahmed Fathi, Hamed, Elneny, Sobhi, Said, Warda; Mohsen
Uruguay possible starting lineup:
Muslera; Caceres, Gimenez, Godin, Pereira; Bentancur, Torreira; Rodriguez, Arrascaeta, Suarez; Cavani.
The match kick off time:15:00 EAT