Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1314, (6 - 12 October 2016)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1314, (6 - 12 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

In need of the perfect start

Ahead of the opening African qualifier for the 2018 World Cup, Egypt’s coach is confident, reports Marawan Zayed

Cuper during training
Cuper during training
Al-Ahram Weekly

The Egyptian national football team coach Hector Cuper is confident that his team can return home with maximum points from their opening game in the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign against Congo. The game, which will be played on 9 October in Congo, is considered crucial if Egypt is to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1990. A strong start will surely give the team an early motivation to reach the World Cup, to be played in Russia, at the expense of favourites in the group Ghana.

Ghana slammed Egypt 7-3 on aggregate on their way to qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Cuper is fully aware of the huge pressure on him and his players to achieve the long awaited dream but he’s also aware of the difficulty of the task ahead. The veteran Argentine coach promised to give his all to ensure the dream comes true but he also stressed that he’ll need huge help from the Egyptian federation to achieve the nation’s goal. When asked about Ghana during a press conference, Cuper refused to discuss any topics related to Ghana or Uganda, the fourth team in the group, saying as he was fully focused on beating Congo for the time being.

“Our full concentration for now is Congo and only Congo. I don’t care about Ghana and Uganda at the moment. I’m just focused on preparing the players in the best way possible to return from Congo with maximum points. The game won’t be easy and we the coaching staff plus all the picked players know we have to give 100 per cent to win the game and ensure we start well.”

Cuper was asked about his decision to overlook the likes of Hossam Ghali and Shikabala but he said he was sure he had picked the right players for the game.

“Shikabala is getting better and better in recent games but we already have several players in his position so we don’t really need him at the moment. As for Ghali I didn’t pick him for technical reasons only and not for disciplinary ones as some people claim.”

Cuper was also asked about his surprise decision to overlook the in-form Ahly midfielder Walid Suleiman who expressed his disappointment regarding the decision and said he would have preferred to know that he wasn’t picked from the staff rather than the media. Cuper did not give a specific reason for not picking Suleiman but urged the player to keep focused on training well with his team for now.

Another shocking decision from Cuper was not picking star of the moment Ayman Hefni who guided Zamalek to the final of the African Champions League recently. “We don’t have any problems with Ayman Hefni as some people are saying but he was injured in the last squad I picked and now he’s not part of the group for technical reasons, but the door is surely open for him to be called up in our future squads.”

The goalkeeping situation was another hot topic during the press conference but once again Cuper seemed relaxed with regards to the situation. “Some people think we’ll have problems with the goalkeepers after (Sherif) Ekrami returned to the squad but the truth is that I have four world class goalkeepers in Ekrami, Essam Al-Hadari, Ahmed Al-Shennawi, and Ali Lotfi which will surely give me a selection headache but one that I love. All four of them deserve to play but unfortunately I can only play one of them and we’re yet to decide on that.”

Cuper also warned the Egyptians against putting too much pressure on Roma star Mohamed Salah and urged the fans to make him feel free to express himself on the pitch. “We’re all expecting so much from Salah as he’s obviously the star of the team and the star of Roma but let’s not put too much pressure on the young star. I always talk to him and advise him to completely free his mind and give his maximum to the national team and forget about the rest.”

As for Hull City’s Ahmed Al-Mohammedi, “he’s back on the national team set-up after hugely impressing with his team in the opening few weeks of the English Premier League and his style of play suits our style of play which makes him a very important player for us”.

The last point discussed by Cuper was his “amazement” with the claim of some pundits and journalists that Zamalek players won’t be focused on the Congo game given that they have the final of the Champions League only six days later. “I’m not even close to being worried about that and I’m fully confident that each of the eight Zamalek players I picked will be up to the task if selected to play. These players love their country and are willing to do anything and everything to reach the World Cup so I can assure you they will all be more than ready.”

Cuper ended the press conference asking every single Egyptian to support the national side and promised that he and his players will give their all to start the qualifying campaign in perfect fashion.

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