The run-up to every World Cup has at least one high-profile fitness race: some star still smarting as the games approach, some muscle or bone receiving prayer and blessings from an entire nation, some fan base counting the minutes the player has left ...
On Thursday, Egypt’s coach, Hector Cuper, said he was almost certain that Salah, who hurt his shoulder during the Champions League final on May 26, would play against Uruguay. But on Friday, an hour before kickoff, the official lineups showed that Salah would begin the match on the bench.
Still, Salah’s presence was felt everywhere. It seemed like every Egyptian jersey in the crowd featured his name. Fourteen minutes into the match, his face appeared on the big screen, drawing a huge cheer from the crowd. And every Egyptian attack that fizzled raised questions about whether he could have made a difference.
In the second half, with the game still scoreless, Cuper exhorted his players forward, punching the air, spinning around in agony and disbelief whenever they lost the ball. But he never summoned Salah.
“Mo Salah is an extremely important player for us, that’s beyond any shadow of doubt, nobody can deny,” Cuper said afterward. “Perhaps if Mo had been on the pitch, the outcome would have been different, but we can’t know that.”
Cuper was not the only one visibly frustrated; Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan star who plays for Barcelona, had anguish written on his face all game, thanks to the persistent heroics of Egyptian goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy.
Early in the second half, Suarez fired a shot across his body toward the left post of the Egyptian goal, but El-Shenawy got his right knee in the way. Suarez kicked the advertising board in anger.
In the 73rd minute, Suarez found himself one-on-one with El-Shenawy again. Suarez twinkled his toes trying to dribble around the challenge, but he couldn’t get his steps right, and El-Shenawy vacuumed the ball off Suarez’s feet. With less than 10 minutes left to play, El-Shenawy made his best save of the night, lunging to his left, his body parallel to the ground, to block a powerful shot from Edinson Cavani, another of Uruguay’s elite attackers.
In the end it was a defender who made the difference, as Gimenez rose above a crowd to put his forehead to a corner kick and smash the ball into the right corner of the goal. As the Uruguayan players swarmed and smothered Giminez, Salah stared into the near distance, then dropped his chin to his chest.
The run-up to every World Cup has at least one high-profile fitness race: some star still smarting as the games approach, some muscle or bone receiving prayer and blessings from an entire nation, some fan base counting the minutes the player has left to heal.
In 2002, for instance, it was David Beckham, whose left foot became an English national obsession after he broke it two months before the World Cup. Four years later, it was another English star, Wayne Rooney, and another broken foot. Neither player looked like himself during the tournament.
In 2010, Andres Iniesta was a risky addition to Spain’s roster given that he had played less than 30 total minutes for Barcelona in the final two months of the season. He scored the winning goal in the World Cup final. Four years later, Radamel Falcao of Colombia narrowly lost his own race to recover from a knee injury after carrying his team through the qualifying process.
Cuper reiterated after Friday’s game that he had been “quite certain” during the team’s training session on Thursday that Salah would play. But after the practice, he said, team doctors examined Salah in depth and determined that he was still at risk for further injury. “We decided not to take that risk,” Cuper said, “because we want to be sure we can have him in top form for our matches against Russia and Saudi Arabia.”
A draw against Uruguay would have validated his plan, giving Egypt a point against the group’s best team with two games against inferior teams to play. Now they will lean even more heavily on Salah and his still questionable shoulder.
Here’s how Uruguay beat Egypt:
89’: GOAL! Uruguay Takes 1-0 Lead
Heartbreak for Egypt in the dying minutes. A free kick near the sidelines found the head of leaping defender Jose Maria Gimenez, and he found the back of the net. A tough break for Egypt, but Uruguay did have much the better chances all game long and just about deserves the victory. Five minutes of stoppage time will surely be entertaining.
Andrew Das: Super header off the ensuing free kick saves the day and crushes the Egyptians. Uruguay just needed to bring a defender forward, I guess. That goal was super important for Uruguay. And for the man the cameras just showed who came to the stadium with his entire head painted blue. Tough to walk home with a blue head having thrown away three points.
88’: Cavani Hits the Post
Edinson Cavani sold a fall hard and was awarded a free kick, fairly generously. He took it himself, and it hit the far post! Uruguay again with the near-miss.
82’: Cavani’s Blast Turned Away
The Suarez-Cavani combo finally hooked up with a nice move. It started with a Suarez header in the box that Cavani viciously one-timed on goal. A great diving one-handed save by El Shenawy kept the game tied.
78’: With 0-0 Tie, Salah Stays Seated
Salah has a big smile on the sidelines. No sign of action from Egypt’s star man, and it is looking increasingly likely he will not play a part, unless perhaps Uruguay scores.
Luis Suarez can't believe he missed in the first half. Credit Francis R. Malasig/Shutterstock72’: Suarez, Again, Comes Up Short
Another clear chance for Luis Suarez, this time for an easy touch finish. But he held on too long and stumbled into Egyptian goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy. Suarez can’t believe he didn’t pull the trigger.
Before Suarez’s run, Ahmed Fathy, who has really shone for Egypt, seized an opportunity and pounced on a loose ball, rocketing it toward the net and forcing a save.
Andrew Das: It goes without saying that Luis Suarez might want to convert one of these chances at some point. Uruguay is leaving the door wide open here for a single mistake that could cost them dearly.
71’: Uruguay Threatens Again
Eight men behind the ball for Egypt as Uruguay got into the box again. But Edinson Cavani could not find a way through the forest of bodies and legs.
68’: Egypt Not Content to Defend
Egypt got some sustained possession in the box, but once again failed to get any kind of shot on net off. Even without a goal, Egypt seems happy to chew up some clock and perhaps leave the game with a point.
60’: Both Teams Make Changes, but No Salah
Carlos Sanchez and Cristian Rodriguez come on for Uruguay as it searches for the combination that will get the ball to Suarez or Cavani and give the team the lead.
Egypt turned to their substitute’s bench ... but brought Kahraba, a left winger, not Mo Salah. The bench is getting more eyes than the playing field in the last few minutes.
48’: Egypt Loses Tarek Hamed
The first extended injury break of the game. Tarek Hamed of Egypt leapt for a header and seemed to land wrong. The physios are on the pitch for treatment. And that will be the end of his day. Sam Morsy checks in for him.
47’: Luis Suarez Comes Out Swinging
Big chance for Uruguay! Suarez was sprung free toward the goal, the ball at his feet, and ... Mohamed El Shenawy, the keeper, made a rare knee save. A near ideal start for Uruguay.
46’: Mo Salah Still on Bench for Egypt
The second half kicks off. No changes to the teams, so no Salah. Yet.
Halftime: Uruguay Can’t Crack Egypt’s Defense
Uruguay was the aggressor, and had the best chance, the miss by Luis Suarez. Egypt played strong defense and occasionally mounted a counterattack. But it’s 0-0 and always felt like a 0-0 game. Egypt is in dire need of a Mohamed Salah appearance; Uruguay needs Suarez to convert one of his chances.
Uruguay had 6 shots to Egypt’s 2, led 2-0 in corners, led in possession and passes and pass accuracy. But it will be the more frustrated team, surely feeling that it should lead this game. Egypt, the underdogs going in, played tenacious defense and will be much happier with the 0-0 scoreline.
Luis Suarez missed in the first half. Credit Darren Staples/ReutersAndrew Das: Uruguay 0, Egypt 0 means Russia won the first half in Yekaterinburg. They’ll like what they have seen: wasteful finishing by the Uruguayans and no Salah for the Egyptians. Expect that latter one to change at some point today.
Andrew Keh: Egypt and Uruguay seem like two teams still getting warmed-up for the tournament — and the game. Uruguay had the only decent chances of the half. Cavani shot low and on target early on, but the ball lost speed as it skipped across the grass and was saved. Saurez knew he should have scored minutes later, when a corner kick bounced onto his foot. But he shanked it into the side netting, before covering his mouth in shock. It went this way for both teams. Passes sputtered just wide of their targets. Players’ first-touches looked clunky. You have to wonder what Salah would bring to this game — and how much longer coach Egypt coach Hector Cuper is willing to wait to find out.
44’: Egypt Makes Some Noise in the Box
Egypt countered and tried to get a little something going, ending in a bad effort at a bicycle kick by Ahmed Fathy. Uruguay fans just can’t be too worried about giving up a goal so far.
34’: When Will Salah Enter?
The camera picks up Mo Salah sitting on the bench opening up some shin guards. All over Egypt, and probably Liverpool too, there is a sudden surge of excitement. But still no concrete signs of his arrival into the game.
Uruguay's Matias Vecino heads the ball in front of Egypt's Ali Gabr in the first half. Credit Dan Mullan/Getty Images28’: Egypt, Strong on Defense, Lacks Punch
Egypt is not really putting together sustained offensive attacks. They are looking for a quick steal or to capitalize on an error and then shoot quickly. The latest effort came from Marwan Mohsen, but like the others it was halfhearted and not from a particularly good location. Egypt seems to lack the confidence to go for a few more passes and get a better shot.
22’: Luis Suarez Misses a Great Chance
Suarez got the ball down the side somewhat dangerously, but Ahmed Fathy, part of the hard-nosed Egypt defense, battled him off the ball. Then two dangerous corners followed, and Suarez missed a great chance going just wide. Uruguay is turning up the heat.
14’: Luis Suarez Shoots Wide
A first chance for the great Luis Suarez, who has 51 goals in a Uruguay uniform. He went wide, failing to get No. 52, but you would expect him to continue to be a danger to Egypt.
Andrew Keh: For all the crazed Egyptian and Uruguayan fans here in Yekaterinburg, the atmosphere out here has been a bit subdued. For starters, the seats along the sideline in the lower bowl seem less than half full. Then there are the two towering temporary stands behind each goal. Those are mostly full, with 12,000 or so brave souls. But their positioning — literally outside the stadium walls and beyond the reach of the roof — has made the atmosphere here feel a bit disjointed. It’s chilly, too, with temperatures in in the mid 50s. A journalist at the news conference yesterday tried to present a pair of traditional Russian felt boots, known as valenki, to Mohamed Salah of Egypt. I wouldn’t mind a pair right now as I sit in this press box.
12’: Egypt Puts Together an Attack
Egypt string a few passes together, and it ends with Trezguet, the one-named midfielder, getting off a shot. But like Uruguay’s first effort, it is easily saved.
9’: Edinson Cavani Threatens
Uruguay has been the offensive engine so far, with Egypt settling back and waiting,. And Uruguay got the first shot, a speculative effort from Edinson Cavani from outside the box. Saved.
6’: Egypt’s Long Wait Is Over
For Egypt, there has been a long wait for this moment: 28 years to be exact, since a 1-0 loss to England in the 1990 World Cup. Egypt’s cameos in Cups have included no wins at all.
Kickoff: Egypt in Red, Uruguay in White
Egypt is in red and Uruguay in white, With Salah limited to the bench, we may see a defensive Egypt today. 0-0 draw anyone? Or will Cavani and Suarez break through for Uruguay?
Mohamed Salah Credit Andrew Couldridge/ReutersMo Salah Will Start Game on Bench
Andrew Keh: Egypt’s coach, Hector Cuper, said Thursday that it was “100 percent” that Salah would play, but he left the decision to the player. He is on the bench, and the sense is that he will get about 30 minutes as a substitute.
Uruguay is known for rugged defending, so it makes sense for Egypt and Cuper to take it carefully with Salah. Losing a star, as Russia did with Alan Dzagoev yesterday, could be a brutal blow to their hopes of advancing.
World Cup 2018 (Soccer)