Egypt forward Mohamed Salah has recovered from a shoulder injury and is almost 100 percent certain to play in their World Cup opener against Uruguay, coach Hector Cuper said on Thursday, ending weeks of suspense about the fitness of his most dangerous striker.
Cuper went further by predicting on the eve of the match that Salah could emerge as one of the tournament’s most prolific goalscorers.
“Mo is doing very well indeed. He’s recovered very, very quickly – we’ve paid a lot of attention to him,” the veteran coach told a news conference before the squad’s last training session ahead of Friday’s match.
“I can almost assure you 100 percent that he will play, save unforeseen circumstances at the very last minute.”
Salah, who scored 44 goals for Liverpool last season, injured shoulder ligaments in the Champions League final defeat by Real Madrid on May 26 and has not played since, keeping fans in suspense before Egypt’s first World Cup finals in 28 years.
Cuper shrugged off any doubts over whether Salah, who turns 26 on the day of the match, would feel sufficiently confident of his physical state to be able to perform at his best.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Egypt are back in the World Cup finals for the first time since 1990 and their progress to the last 16 could hinge on Salah enjoying the form that saw him voted England’s Player of the Year by his fellow professionals.
Uruguay are the toughest opponents for the north African team, and they will fancy their chances of advancing from Group A, which also includes Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Cuper added that Salah’s inclusion would depend on him coming through their final training session unscathed. Watched closely by dozens of cameras on Thursday, the striker appeared not to overstrain himself during training.
A Russian reporter staying at Egypt’s team hotel said that Salah had also been working with a trainer until after midnight following their arrival in Yekaterinburg on Wednesday.
Cuper also entertained a question from a reporter about Salah’s prospects of emerging as the top scorer at the tournament.
“Why not? He could become the top goalscorer here and one of the greatest players.”
‘Call us defensive? It’s a bit late to change now’
Cuper does not mind his team being described as defensive and is not about to rip up the playbook that has brought them to their first World Cup finals in 28 years.
Since the Argentine coach took charge in 2015, the Pharaohs, who can boast one of the world’s top goalscorers Salah, have enjoyed success with a style that is more efficient than thrilling.
“For three years and a few months we’ve decided on a certain path… We’ve achieved a lot by following that path, so with very little time before the World Cup it would be risky to change things substantially in our style,” Cuper told reporters on the eve of Friday’s game against Uruguay.
“I don’t like to practise at the World Cup with things we haven’t done before. Sometimes, you have to perfect and fine-tune the things that you do well.”
But he was also mindful of issues at the back, where Egypt were exposed in a 3-0 defeat by Belgium in a May 7 friendly.
“Perhaps we still need to work a bit more on defence,” he acknowledged, sitting alongside veteran goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary who at 45 will become the oldest player to take part in the World Cup finals if he takes the field on Friday.
Hadary, the captain, said making it to the tournament was the culmination of 25 years of hard work.
“I will be the happiest person in the world,” he said.