Having carried Egypt through qualifying, Mohamed Salah will be key to his country’s chances at the World Cup—their first appearance at the tournament since 1990—and today’s news that he is expected fit for the opener will be cause for celebration for many.
“Salah is in a stage of recovery not just for treatment on his shoulder,” manager Hectory Cuper said following the release of Egypt’s final 23-man roster. “We need to improve his fitness level because the injury has prevented him from training as a normal player.
“But we have very good news from our doctors and we hope he will be with us before Uruguay. We are optimists and we are waiting for him. We hope we won’t be affected but we can’t be dependent on one player. If he’s not fit in time we will be ready with another.”
Egypt may have a plan in place for if Salah isn’t fit, but the reality is their chances in Russia depend largely on Salah being fit—though if he isn’t ready to face Uruguay, it doesn’t mean Egypt won’t still have a solid chance of advancing. At least if he can be fit for game two.
Group A, where Egypt and Uruguay ended up along with Saudi Arabia and hosts Russia, is the weakest group. Uruguay are tentative favourites but would be in a fight to finish second in most other groups while Saudi Arabia are one of the worst sides in the competition.
As for hosts Russia, they may have home field advantage but their current squad would have struggled to qualify if they hadn’t been given a berth as the host country—meaning that with a fit Salah, finishing second and advancing is a reasonable goal for Egypt.
That makes the Uruguay match the one it probably hurts least for Egypt to be without Salah for given they can lose the opener to the group favourites and still expect to advance if they can then get results in games two and three against Russia and the Saudis.
Having him fit to face Uruguay on June 15th would be a bonus, but the real deadline for Salah to be fit for Egypt’s chances is the 19th when they face Russia. If he’s fit again by then, Egypt have every hope of making a run to at least the Round of 16 this summer.