African nations have suffered a bruising opening to the 2018 World Cup and Egypt are set to turn to the continent's finest player in a bid to bring about a change of fortunes against hosts Russia in Group A.
Nigeria's 2-0 loss to Croatia on Saturday meant the CAF representatives had played three, lost three, failed to score and all conceded from set-piece situations.
Jose Gimenez's 89th-minute winner for Uruguay against Egypt was watched from the sidelines by Mohamed Salah, who remained in cold storage on the bench despite pre-match claims from veteran boss Hector Cuper that the Liverpool superstar was "almost 100 per cent" fit following his shoulder injury.
The Egyptian Football Federation (EFA) laid that decision solely at Cuper's door, maintaining the 26-year-old was fit to face Uruguay but deemed not ready for the risk.
Denis Cheryshev capped a brace in Russia's opening 5-0 rout of Saudi Arabia with a superb stoppage-time finish but the Spanish-raised midfielder knows all about an esteemed tactician who he expects to make life difficult for his team-mates.
"Saudi Arabia is in the past, we must move on," Cheryshev told FIFA TV. "Egypt are very strong, they've got a good coach in Hector Cuper.
"Whether Mo Salah plays or not, it's going to be a difficult game for us anyway. If he's not there, does that mean our task becomes easy? Not at all.
"If he plays, it will be hard but more interesting. He's one of the best and you always want to compete with the best and win."
It is Russia who will be without a star man this time around, with Alan Dzagoev continuing his rehabilitation from a hamstring strain suffered against Saudi Arabia back in Moscow, as his colleagues chase a victory that would see them progress from the group stage for the first time since the Soviet Union era.
Egypt count right-back Ahmed Fathi as a minor doubt with muscular tightness, while team manager Ihab Leheta is keen to present a united front.
"Our culture as Egyptians means that all our hearts beat as one, and that is what we feel," he said. "Our enthusiasm and determination is increasing all the time and we thank all the Egyptian fans for their support."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Russia – Aleksandr Golovin
CSKA Moscow have reportedly slapped a €25million price tag on the head of opening-day hero Golovin. The 22-year-old was Russia's creative inspiration and crowned a stellar display by dispatching a sumptuous free-kick. Dzagoev's absence means more of the same is required.
Egypt – Mohamed Salah
How could it be anyone else? Despite the subsequent handwringing, Cuper's decision not to play his talisman against Uruguay – Egypt's least-winnable game – was the percentage call in the circumstances. EFA declarations over Salah's fitness are one thing, but whether his stellar 44-goal form from Liverpool this season can be rediscovered is the major source of intrigue.
KEY OPTA STATS
- Egypt have never beaten European opposition at the World Cup, drawing two and losing two of their four games.
- They have also failed to score in each of their last three World Cup matches, last finding the net in the competition against Netherlands at Italia 90.
- Aleksandr Golovin has already been involved in three goals in this World Cup (one goal, two assists). Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, the only player to have been involved in more goals for Russia in a single tournament was Oleg Salenko in 1994 (6 goals, 1 assist).
- Russia’s 5-0 win against Saudi Arabia was the second biggest by a host nation in their opening match at a World Cup tournament, after Italy beating USA 7-1 in 1934.
|Neymar backs Tite for Brazil despite World Cup failure|
|Vinicius wants to play with ´idol´ Neymar but Perez calms transfer talk|
|One hundred not out for Els at The Open|
|Magnificent Maharaj takes eight wickets to stymie Sri Lanka|
|If I lose I´ll go down swinging - McIlroy ready for Carnoustie battle|
|UEFA confirms AC Milan reinstated to 2018-19 Europa League|
|Fleetwood: Open Championship is the one for me|
|Canberra coach Stuart brands bunker ´waste of time´ after controversial Cronulla loss|
|Son signs five-year Tottenham extension|
|Fleetwood cards fine 65 to share Open lead|
|WATCH: Evra belts out Bocelli in Ronaldo welcome video|
|I´ll always carry Roma in my heart, says Liverpool signing Alisson|
|CAS overturns AC Milan´s Europa League ban|
|McIlroy and Johnson on the move as Woods troubles Carnoustie spectators|
|Caleta-Car race won by Marseille|
|Hurricanes hold off Chiefs to reach final four|
|Bairstow: Unfair to compare England Test and ODI teams|
|Criticism is a weapon of the weak – Dani Alves defends Neymar|
|Thomas drops shot as McIlroy endures testing morning|
|Hazard is Chelsea´s best player and we need him – Fabregas|
|Mercedes & Bottas agree multi-year deal|
|Neymar backs ´genius´ Ronaldo to make Serie A great again|
|Sanchez to face San Jose Earthquakes as Mourinho grows desperate in attack|
|Ibrahimovic to watch England at Wembley – Zlatan will honour Beckham bet|
|Cubs use five-run fifth inning to trump Cardinals|
|Manchester United 1 America 1: Mata salvages draw for Red Devils|
|Steelers´ Super Bowl window getting smaller - Brown|
|Neymar cares about PSG and will stay amid Real Madrid speculation|
|NFL, NFLPA at ´standstill agreement´ over anthem policy|
|Guardiola: It would´ve been a mistake for Jorginho to join City|
|Angels star Ohtani cleared to resume pitching|
|´I don´t give a f***´ – Cousins hits back at critics after Warriors move|
|Merritt leads Barbasol Championship|
|Ruud awakening for Ferrer in Bastad|
|Nibali withdraws from Tour de France with back fracture|
|Fabinho: I´ll try to convince Mbappe to join Liverpool|
|Beating Messi boosted France´s World Cup belief – Lloris|
|Carnoustie saving the worst until last|
|McIlroy´s youthful exuberance could be a bad sign for Carnoustie contenders|
|Saints triumph at second-placed Wigan|
|Anfield atmosphere sweetened Alisson on Liverpool|
|Bouchard reaches Gstaad quarter-finals|
|´What are you waiting for?´ - Alisson reveals Salah text messages|
|´Full package´ Alisson could not be missed - Klopp|
|Alisson to Liverpool: Brazil star becomes most expensive goalkeeper in history|
|Alisson to Liverpool: Brazilian´s stats blitz Mignolet, Karius|
|Liverpool sign Alisson in world-record deal|
|The Open 2018 diary: Spieth´s got ball skills as Finau proves the scratch golfer|
|Woods: Score doesn´t reflect how well I played|
|Can we go to Paris now? - Thomas in a hurry after conquering Alpe d´Huez|
|Thomas: I could have finished stronger|
|Kisner shines at baked Carnoustie as McIlroy, Rahm and Thomas loom|
|Sarri´s mentality made me a better footballer - Jorginho|
|Tax rates played a role in Ronaldo joining Juventus, says LaLiga president|
|Aggressive McIlroy doing it his way, not the fairway|
|I let him have it - Spinazzola ribs Ronaldo over Juve shirt number|
|Thomas makes it back-to-back wins|
|Ramos may remain for Spain but Luis Enrique promising surprises|
|Cazorla still playing through pain after Villarreal appearance|
|Vegas to Carnoustie - a hellish trip for Jhonattan|
|NFL training camp 2018: Five under-the-radar rookies to watch|
|Woods off to a flyer as Thomas charges|
|Sanchez given green light to join Man Utd tour|
|Greipel, Groenewegen and Gaviria latest sprinters to abandon Tour de France|
|Luis Enrique hopeful over Pique as he plots a Spanish evolution|
|I had a brain fart - Spieth disappointed with missed opportunity|
|I´ve sacrificed too much to quit, says injury-plagued Rossi|
|Klopp rejects Henderson´s plea to return early to Liverpool training|
|Open champion Spieth loses ground in scrappy finish|
|Alexis Sanchez hints visa issue sorted as United States trip beckons|