20:15 BST, Friday 1st June, Atleti Azzurri d’Italia (Bergamo, Italy)
Egypt’s upcoming tie against fellow World Cup participants Colombia will be watched with a greater sense of intrigue than may have previously been anticipated given the fact that the Pharaohs will be without their star man Mohamed Salah.
After sustaining an injury under tragic circumstances, forcing him to watch the majority of Saturday’s Champions League final from the sideline, Salah has been ruled out of this tie.
Although reports suggest he will be back in time for the competition, it is still not known whether the Liverpool forward might face missing his country’s World Cup campaign. The Egyptian management, then, may be forced to use this tie as a warm-up for life without Salah in Russia.
Colombia will be keen to exploit the newly-weakened Egyptian side, strengthening their credentials heading into their World Cup campaign.
Reaching the quarter-finals in Brazil in 2014, Los Cafeteros were narrowly edged out by the host country. They will hope to go a step further in Russia with their incredibly talented player pool.
Egypt’s lineup yields no major surprises with Trezeguet shifting to the right wing to accommodate the absence of Mohamed Salah.
The vacant left wing position will likely be filled by young Stoke City winger Ramadan Sobhi who scored two goals for the Potters over the last season.
Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny is expected to lineup alongside Wigan Athletic’s Sam Morsy in the two holding midfield roles.
Egypt’s backline should feature some familiar names too with Ahmed Elmohamady joining up with the national team following Championship playoff disappointment with Aston Villa.
West Brom’s Ahmed Hegazi is expected to play alongside former teammate Ali Gabr at centre-back, while the backline is completed by Mohamed Abdel-Shafy.
Egypt are not the only side with a significant absentee: Colombia continue to line out without Juventus winger Juan Cuadrado, who is sidelined with a long-standing groin injury.
Mateus Uribe and James Rodriguez man the wings in this 4-2-2-2 formation, with the experienced strike-partnership of Carlos Bacca and Radamel Falcao leading the frontline.
The back four features a centre-back pairing of Barcelona’s Yerry Mina and Tottenham Hotspur’s Davinson Sanchez. The young centre-backs are among the most highly rated defenders in world football and are expected to transition into long-term replacements for the aging Cristián Zapata and Oscar Murillo.
Colombia manager Jose Pekerman will likely be keen to give them game-time under their belts prior to the World Cup.
Key Players: Ahmed Hegazi (Egypt) vs Radamel Falcao (Colombia)
Egypt’s Ahmed Hegazi endured a tough season with West Bromwich Albion and was part of their setup that finished in bottom place in the Premier League.
Hegazi was ever-present in the Baggies starting XI, playing all 38 matches of the season.
Despite often succumbing to poor defeats with his club, Hegazi had a number of promising performances this season, most notably in West Brom’s one-nil win over Manchester United at Old Trafford in April.
While playing against the Premier League’s plethora of world-class strikers has arguably put Hegazi in better stead than his defensive counterparts in the national team, Colombia’s Radamel Falcao will pose a challenge that is difficult to prepare for.
Despite suffering a number of setbacks during the past season with an ongoing hamstring problem, the Monaco striker racked up an impressive 24 goals in 35 appearances.
A serial poacher and a ruthless finisher, Falcao possesses the ability to find the back of the net out of nowhere and, while he may be somewhat past his prime, he is a danger to even the most seasoned defenders.
Supported by the likes of James Rodriguez and Carlos Bacca, Ahmed Hegazi would do well to clinch a clean sheet against Radamel Falcao’s Colombia side.
Life without Salah – Motivation or Morale Blow?
The Egyptian people’s adoration for Mo Salah is inestimable.
In a similar manner to the magnitudes of Liverpool fans watching the Champions League, Salah’s fans back in Egypt were equally distraught to see their star winger suffer a shoulder injury that might rule him out of Russia.
It would almost be an injustice to draw parallels between this and any other situation, but it is somewhat comparable to Neymar’s back injury that he sustained against Colombia in the last World Cup.
The gulf in class between star man and teammates is evidently more significant in the Egyptian squad, but Brazil were still dealt a severe blow by Neymar’s absence.
While his teammates were keen to channel the disappointment of Neymar’s injury into motivation, they succumbed to a 7-1 defeat to Germany in the proceeding game.
Egypt will surely look to use Mo Salah’s injury as a form of motivation too, and it will certainly be interesting to watch the success of their exploits sans Salah.
Will Colombia’s ambition prove to be too much?
Colombia’s international pedigree is undoubtedly an intimidation in itself to the Egyptians.
The Pharaohs will be taking part in their first World Cup finals since Italia ’90 and it will be their third time to play at the competition.
While Colombia have endured barren periods in the 2000s, they reached the quarter-finals in Brazil 2014 and Russia 2018 will be their sixth participation in the World Cup finals.
Friday’s game may be a friendly match by name, but the tie will function as an integral part of both nations’ preparations for the tournament. Colombia are an emerging powerhouse in international football, looking to outdo their stellar performance in Brazil.
Egypt may have been impressive in the CAF World Cup qualifying campaign, but don’t boast the same quality or pedigree as the Colombians.
Prediction: Egypt 0-2 Colombia
Unfortunately for Egypt, they will struggle to produce the necessary creative ingenuity or attacking prowess without Mo Salah and it would seem unlikely that they would find a way past a staunch Colombian backline.
Colombia have an extensive range of attacking options at their disposal, and a frontline spearheaded by Falcao and Bacca is likely to find the back of the net with relative ease. Egypt would do well to keep a clean sheet and a relatively comfortable Colombian victory is surely on the cards.
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