World Cup 2018: Saudi Arabia vs Egypt – Lineups, Preview & Prediction
The first of this tournament’s dead rubbers, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are playing for pride on Monday.
15:00 BST, Monday 25th June, Volgograd Arena (Volgograd, Russia), ITV
When the World Cup draw was made in Moscow back in December, no one expected Group A to become such a foregone conclusion after only two games.
Yet with Russia coming out of the blocks at a lightning pace and Uruguay doing just enough to squeeze past their opponents in unremarkable 1-0 wins, Egypt and Saudi Arabia find themselves without a hope of progression to the knock-out stages.
Of the two teams, Egypt’s inaugural World Cup campaign has been perhaps the more disappointing. With Mohamed Salah being injured in the Champions League final, condemning him to miss the first game entirely and play the second still in the throes of injury, the fairytale of their World Cup adventure came to an abrupt end before it had even begun.
Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, have had a curious time of it in Russia. Their coach Juan Antonio Pizzi has bemused onlookers by attempting to engender a form of tiki-taka football in his side: an approach that has made them look bright in the middle of the field, but led to them shipping five goals against Russia and barely causing an uninspiring Uruguay any problems.
This, then, is a match that is all about pride. Can Egypt get their first World Cup win? Can Saudi Arabia justify their perhaps too elaborate possession-based football? Only Monday afternoon will provide us with an answer.
Last Time Out
Uruguay 1-0 Saudi Arabia
While the result of this match may have followed the expectations of the majority, the momentum of this game certainly did not.
Once again, Saudi Arabia attempted to build up play through possession which led to them holding the ball in the midfield areas, but rarely penetrating their opponents in the final third.
When Luis Suarez slotted the ball away from a corner in the first half, the game became a bit of a procession.
The Uruguayan midfield hardly looked like an enticing prospect, but Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez had enough to keep the Saudis at bay.
Russia 3-1 Egypt
Despite the return of their talisman, Mohamed Salah, Egypt could not stop the unstoppable force that is the Russia men’s national team. Russia took the early lead through the unluckiest of sources: Ahmed Fathi diverting the ball into his own net in a bid to prevent a Russian attack.
Early in the second half, it was 2-0l: Denis Cheryshev’s neat finish inside the box giving the host nation a buffer which made their progress into the Round of 16 assured.
When Artem Dzyuba added to his goal tally ten minutes later, it was game, set and match Russia who assured qualification for the knock-out stages of the tournament for the first time in their history.
Despite pulling a goal back through Salah – who won the penalty that he then slotted away – Egypt never looked enough and they crashed out of the competition with the question ‘What if?’ on the lips of many of their supporters.
Saudi Arabia Lineup
Juan Antonio Pizzi’s squad have a clean bill of health so expect them to line up in as strong a formation as they can in a bid to take home a win to their name from Russia.
With Mohamed Salah returning to full fitness, Hector Cuper will likely field him from the start in a bid to pull off a result in Egypt’s first World Cup appearance.
Salah will play on the right of the three in a 4-2-3-1, although he will be given licence to push forward into a supporting role next to Marwan Mohsen.
In the double pivot, both Mohamed Elneny and Tarek Hamed are carrying knocks. If they don’t make the starting XI, expect to see Samy Morsy and Omar Gaber coming in as replacements.
Key Battle: Mohamed Salah (Egypt) vs Yasser Al-Shahrani (Saudi Arabia)
Mohamed Salah is a man who needs no introduction.
However, just over a year ago, the Egyptian wide forward was hardly a household name. Moving to Liverpool from Roma for – by today’s standard – a paltry £36.9 million, Salah went on to win the Golden Boot in the Premier League, carrying the Reds to the Champions League final last month.
With lightning pace and an unerring side-footed finish reminiscent of Thierry Henry, the Saudi defence will know that Salah is the threat that they need to nullify.
One of the Saudis tasked with this unenviable job is Yasser Al-Shahrani. Plying his trade at Al-Hilal in the Saudi Professional League, Al-Shahrani sits in the left-back slot in the back four.
He will know that, with the level of freedom given to Mohamed Salah, that his task will be as much organisational as explicitly defensive.
If he can marshall his teammates around him, Al-Shahrani will hope to be able to keep Mohamed Salah under wraps. But there have been much better defences this season who have failed to do the same.
Will Egypt continue to over-rely?
While no one judges them for it, it is clear that Egypt over-rely on Mohamed Salah.
However, with the forward clearly affected by his shoulder when he played against Russia, it raises the question whether or not Hector Cuper can set his team up to be less reliant on the Liverpool player.
That may be easier said than done, though. With Mohamed Elneny fighting an ankle injury and Tarek Hamed also carrying a knock, it may be the case that reliance on Salah is the Egyptians best bet yet.
Can tiki-taka finally produce?
The standard critique of Saudi Arabia has been of their adherence to possession-based football that has hardly served them well in the group stages so far.
Of course, with the World Cup hardly being a realistic target for Saudi Arabia, there are questions to be raised about how they should approach the competition.
With the Asian Cup coming up next year for Saudi Arabia – a competition where they go from being underdogs to being amongst the better sides – Pizzi could be forgiven for persisting with a form of football that could see his side go deep in this tournament.
Egypt, then, will represent a chance to put this approach to the test finally.
Prediction: Saudi Arabia 1-1 Egypt
Although Egypt probably come into this one as slight favourites – let’s call it the Salah Effect – don’t be surprised if Saudi Arabia pose some problems for the North African side.
A game that will probably be fairly tetchy, expect to see both sides score but a deadlock to remain.