CAIRO, Egypt, October 11 – Coaching stability was a key factor behind Egypt’s successful qualification for World Cup Russia 2018 campaign.
Their recent resurgence helped them finally end a 28-year-old absence from the world’s most prestigious tournament.
When the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) announced the appointment of Hector Cuper in March 2015, hopes were high despite his having just one previous stint as a national team coach with Georgia.
And while on that occasion he registered just a single win during a year or so at the helm, he wasted little time in bringing successes to the Pharaohs.
The 61-year-old led his charges back to the African Cup of Nations, for which they had failed to qualify in the three previous editions.
At the continental championship, Cuper guided Egypt to the final, where they lost 2-1 to Cameroon. Despite the defeat, the team’s performance only strengthened the EFA’s belief in the veteran coach, who ultimately repaid that faith by securing a World Cup return.
There were four main reasons for Egypt’s success.
Throughout this campaign, Cuper has relied heavily on four key players, who helped him achieve his principal goal.
Between the posts is Essam El Hadary, his first-choice keeper, who has been beaten only three times so far in the third round of qualifiers.
When El Hadary retired from international football in 2013, it seemed that the goalkeeper’s national team career was finally over after becoming a second-choice for his country.
However, he would make a remarkable return this year, regaining the No1 jersey in somewhat fortuitous circumstances at the 2017 African Cup of Nations.
There he became the oldest player in the history of the tournament and led his team to the final of the continental showpiece.
During the third round of qualifiers for Russia 2018, the tried-and-trusted custodian has not missed a single minute, playing an invaluable role in the successful campaign.
Then there is the pacey Mohammed Abdul Shafi, who has proved indispensable on the left flank, and Arsenal’s defensive midfielder Mohamed El Neny, who has been tirelessly breaking up opposition attacks.
Up front, Cuper’s go-to man is Mohamed Salah, who has netted the majority (71 percent) of his side’s goals in these qualifiers. These four players have not missed a single minute of the third-round qualifying games, showing just how influential they have been in the triumphant journey.
When the African qualifiers for Russia 2018 started, Salah was starring with Roma, where he became the club’s second top scorer with 15 goals and the Serie A’s second best in assists (11) during the 2016/17 season.
Salah carried over his superb form into the national team, scoring in all the Pharaohs’ third-round victories, including decisive goals against Uganda (1-0) and a brace against Congo (2-1).
The 25-year-old Liverpool winger managed to shoulder this huge responsibility that comes with being his side’s attacking spearhead, fulfilling the dream of millions of Egyptians to return to the World Cup.
Perhaps one of the main reasons was their home ground Borg el-Arab Stadium which proved a fortress for Egypt during the qualifying campaign.
There the Pharaohs registered three victories that were decisive to the campaign. First came triumphs over Ghana (2-0) and Uganda (1-0), before the venue witnessed history being made on October 8 with the dramatic late win over Congo that sealed Egypt’s passage to Russia.
It now joins the ranks of Cairo International Stadium, the venue where the Pharaohs clinched a berth at the finals in Italy 1990.