The games taking place during this international break are friendlies, so ultimately they mean absolutely nothing. But we all have our thoughts on the depth of these teams or the capabilities of some of these star players, and this is a taste of what we might see come June 14th.
Friday saw quite a few matchups between some big teams, but I was interested in seeing our star player, Mo Salah, and how he and Egypt would shape up against the European champs, Portugal. Egypt hadn’t qualified for the World Cup in 28 years and with Salah leading the charge, they probably feel like they can shake things up. Being drawn into GROUP A with host Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Uruguay, there’s no reason why they can’t advance out of the group stage if they can keep their heads up.
WHAT’S WHAT ABOUT EGYPT AND THEIR PERFORMANCE
THE KING: Salah has 28 league goals, 6 Champions League goals, and 1 FA Cup goal bringing his club goal tally to 35 in 36 games. While he’s at the top of the list currently for highest scorer in Europe, Cristiano Ronaldo is not far behind having scored 21 goals in his last 11 matches. Playing with his national team, Salah was able to establish himself against one of the best and made his goal in the early stages of the second half look so completely effortless. He passed the ball wide to Abdallah El-Said (who got the assist), sat in the space, and drove it home with a left-footed finish.
THE KEEPER: Egypt have been relying on 45-year old keeper Essam El-Hadary, but this matchup saw 29-year old Mohamed El-Shennawy given a chance. It was shaky in the first half for sure, especially when a free kick inside the box was given by RB Ahmed Fathi after he tried to back-pass to El-Shannawy. Both goals scored against him came in added time and were not wholly his fault. Overall, he proved himself by breaking up a few threatening crosses and getting in the middle of aerial attacks. Expect him in Russia if his performances continue at this level.
DEFENSE: The Pharaohs’ two top defenders are losing the relegation battle at West Brom. Ahmed Hegazi and Ali Gabr managed to hold off the European champs until the last minutes of added time. Losing focus at the end, they all but invited Ronaldo to take advantage of the mistake on the final set piece. Obviously, they showed they can hold their own against a team like Portugal, but the Egyptian defense needs to be able to stop some of the most ruthless forwards in the world if they want to advance this summer.
WHO WON? While the Pharaohs ultimately lost in heartbreaking fashion, their performance was surprising, to me at least. Once settled in the game, they controlled the pace and managed to shut down a lot of Portuguese attacks. By the second half, they worked well to open their offense and create more opportunities. They had a stellar performance with only a few minor issues. With Ronaldo’s 92nd and 94th minute goals, Egypt had Portugal pushing it down to the wire. Unlike the Euros 2016 Final, but in the Confederations Cup semi-final, Portugal was unable to advance without CR7. Egypt proved themselves capable, but Portugal had to call upon Ronaldo once again to save the day. Portugal is in GROUP B along with Spain, Morocco, and Iran, and while they’re likely to advance out of their group barring any major upsets, a team like Egypt could give them a run for their money in the next round.
At least, one can hope.
Egypt concludes this international break with another friendly against Greece on Tuesday, March 27.
They start the World Cup tournament Friday, June 15, against Uruguay.