Egypt vs Uruguay Preview: Salah expected to start as underdogs face tough task

Egypt vs Uruguay Preview: Salah expected to start as underdogs face tough task

Mohamed Salah is on a race for fitness ahead of Egypt's clash with Uruguay, the country's first World Cup match in 28 years.

Maxwell Hogg

Underdogs Egypt take on group favorites Uruguay in their opening Group A matchup on Friday.

The Pharaohs have returned to the World Cup for the first time since 1990 and face a hefty challenge in their first match at the Luzhniki Stadium, taking on the South American powerhouse.

Egypt have never won a game at the World Cup, and many believe that wait will most likely continue against Uruguay. If they can hold out for a point in this matchup, it would greatly bolster their chances of advancing to the knockout stages.

La Celeste look to go far in the tournament after a disappointing round-of-16 exit against Colombia last time out. Uruguay will look to not only beat Egypt, but send a warning to the rest of the field with a dominant performance.

Will Salah be fit?

The main concern for Egypt heading into this match is whether Mohamed Salah will be fit enough to make an appearance. The Liverpool forward was not only instrumental to the Reds' march to the Champions League final, but scored game winning goals against Uganda and Congo to bring Egypt to the World Cup.

However, since qualifying Egypt have failed to win in their last six games. Salah has been missing for three of those, and the attack has struggled in his absence.

Despite zero wins leading into the finals, the team is defensively disciplined and have only lost two matches by more than a goal since Argentine manager Hector Cuper took over in 2015. The most recent heavy defeat was a 3-0 loss to World Cup contenders Belgium last week.

Egypt will most likely lineup in their favored 4-2-3-1 formation so that the two defensive midfielders can help bolster the back line. Mohamed Elneny of Arsenal will star in this defensive role alongside Tarek Hamid, tasked with disrupting the enemy offense while looking to distribute the ball forward on the counter attack.

The Uruguay midfield is probably their weakest area on the pitch, and Egypt might be able to build possession as opposed to playing strictly counter attacking football. Both sides' offense will be dictated by who wins the battle in midfield.

West Bromwich Albion centre backs Ahmed Hegazi and Ali Gabr will start in defense and have proved to be an effective duo. Despite their recent 3-0 loss to Belgium, they also kept Colombia scoreless in their 0-0 draw two weeks ago. However, they have struggled to defend against the cross and will have their hands full with the likes of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez.

Even with Salah in the side, Egypt desperately lack goal scoring threats and will look to Mahmoud "Trezeguet" Hassan to contribute after a successful season in Turkey that saw the Egyptian forward score 16 goals in 33 games across all competitions. The Pharaohs will need everyone at the top of the game if they are to get any points against Uruguay.

La Celeste look to hit the ground running

Uruguay, two-time World Cup winners in 1930 and 1950, have drawn a considerably easy group and should have no trouble topping it. They'll want to start their campaign on the right foot, and could make a statement at Egypt's expense.

Oscar Tabarez's side comes into the World Cup with only one loss to Austria in their last six games. Scoring 12 in those six games, this Uruguay side is as explosive going forward as ever. 

The pairing of Suarez and Cavani upfront has been lethal as the two forwards link up well and are capable of carving most defensive lines apart with their passing and off-ball runs. Individually, both of the forwards scored 30+ goals in all competition in their club season, and it would be hard to believe Egypt has what it takes to keep these prolific strikers off the scoresheet.

Suarez will also look to redeem himself on football's grandest stage after being banned at the 2014 World Cup for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini. Keeping Suarez's "bad boy" attitude in check is crucial if Uruguay plan to go far in the tournament.

La Celeste's offense may be it's main strength, but the backline is also as strong with Atletico Madrid centre backs Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez anchoring the defense. World-class Godin will prove to be a tough challenge to beat for the Egyptian offense as he excels and tackling, marking, and aerial duels. Gimenez is no pushover himself as Egypt will need to be on the top of their game to get past this duo.

The only cause for concern would be the Uruguay midfield. While talented, the relatively young midfield is the weakest area on the pitch for La Celeste when compared to the top notch offense and defense. Matias Vecino will star in the midfield after yet another impressive season at Inter Milan. It will be his job to help Uruguay stay in possession and facilitate the offense for Cavani and Suarez.

Overall, there is too much quality in this Uruguay side for Egypt to overcome. It should be a thrilling match to see with all the goalscoring talent on the pitch, but Uruguay should be able to see this one out comfortably on their way to topping Group A.