Last Updated: 14/06/18 7:16pm
The first of three World Cup games on Friday sees Egypt take on Uruguay in Yekaterinburg’s Ekaterinburg Stadium.
The 35,000-seater stadium is the most-eastern venue at this year’s tournament, lying on the geographical border of Europe and Asia, but all the focus in the build-up to the game has been on Egypt’s Mohamed Salah.
They have had been sweating on the Liverpool forward’s fitness after he suffered a shoulder injury in the Champions League final last month but there was some encouragement for Hector Cuper’s side as Salah trained with the team on Wednesday.
Manager Cuper confirmed on Thursday that Salah would feature in the squad against Uruguay for Egypt’s first World Cup appearance in 28 years, but hinted that the final decision remained with the player.
“Salah has recovered and will play tomorrow. And nothing prevents him from competing for the title of the Golden Boot,” he told his pre-match press conference. “I assure you 100 per cent that he will be with us tomorrow, barring unforeseen circumstances.
“Doctors are giving him the option. If he does decide to play he will have full guarantee [about his condition] and I am sure that he will be fine.
“If we see at the last minute that there is an issue then we will see if it can be resolved, but certainly he does not feel afraid.”
Meanwhile, Uruguay’s attacking threat will come from Barcelona striker Luis Suarez, and Paris Saint-Germain’s Edison Cavani.
Cavani was the top-scorer in South American qualifying for the World Cup with 10 goals, while Suarez has five World Cup goals to his name, including two against England in 2014.
Uruguay also won the only previous meeting between the sides 2-0 in 2006.
The big news is Salah’s inclusion on Friday, and appears to be assured of a starting spot. However, new Huddersfield signing Ramadan Sobhi is a replacement if needed.
Egypt could also make history by fielding the oldest player to feature at a World Cup, with 45-year-old goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary in the squad.
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Reported Arsenal transfer target Lucas Torreira could start for Uruguay, with Suarez and Cavani expected to start up front.
- Uruguay are unbeaten against African opposition at the World Cup (W1 D2).
- This is Egypt’s third World Cup appearance, their first since 1990. Their last game in the competition dates back to 21 June 1990, when they lost 1-0 against England in the group stage.
- Egypt are so far winless at the World Cup, drawing two and losing two of their four games. In fact, no African team has played as many games in the competition without winning a single one.
- Uruguay were the first World Cup winners, in 1930. They also won on their second participation in 1950. However, they have progressed past the round of 16 only once in their last six appearances (4th place in 2010).
- Uruguay have lost only one of their last eight World Cup group games (W4 D3), against Costa Rica in 2014 (1-3). However, they are winless in their last six opening games (D3 L3), their last victory coming in 1970 (2-0 v Israel).
- This is Héctor Cúper’s first World Cup as a manager. His only previous major tournament with Egypt saw him lead the team to the 2017 African Cup of Nations final against Cameroon, where they went on to lose 2-1.
- This is Oscar Tabárez’s fourth World Cup appearance (after 1990, 2010 and 2014); more than any other manager at this year’s tournament. From the 15 games the Uruguay boss has overseen in the competition, he has recorded as many wins as defeats (W6 D3 L6).
I have gone for Uruguay. I just think with Uruguay having Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez in attack, they could be dark horses as they are two of the best forwards about right now.
PAUL PREDICTS: 0-2 (5/1 with Sky Bet)