Egypt have been left to lament the pre-tournament injury to superstar Mohamed Salah after their World Cup campaign was all but ended against hosts Russia.
Salah’s injury denied Egypt having their star man on top form at the showpiece event, according to coach Hector Cuper.
Although Salah scored on his World Cup debut, converting a penalty he won himself, it proved a mere consolation with Egypt beaten 3-1 by hosts Russia in Tuesday’s Group A meeting in St Petersburg.
With no points to show from their first two matches, only an extraordinary set of results could now keep Egypt in the competition.
Salah sat out Egypt’s opener, Uruguay claiming a last-gasp 1-0 win, with Cuper rueing not being able to rely on the forward who scored 44 goals in all competitions in his first season for Liverpool.
“Nobody can deny his importance,” Cuper told reporters of Salah, who battled to recover from a shoulder injury sustained in the Champions League final.
“It’s hard to say what would have happened had he been on top form.
“Salah was feeling good to play, he was in shape. I always say behind a brilliant player there has to be a team, I am proud because there is a team.
“Perhaps we weren’t decisive enough but we have to recognise the great effort they have done after 28 years of Egypt not taking part in a World Cup.”
Cuper opted not to use Salah for Egypt’s Group A opener and the Egyptian Football Association subsequently released a statement indicating the attacker could have played, at odds with the assessment of the coach.
“When we talk about 100 per cent, we have to look at the medical side,” Cuper said. “I was told by the medical team that the player was good and the player felt himself he was good to play.
“As for his physical shape, he couldn’t prepare with us in the training camp, he had to train alone. Perhaps that might mean his physical ability was reduced, but I was convinced he was in optimal shape.
“What if he hadn’t injured himself in the Champions League final? Then he would have been able to train with the same intensity as the rest of the team. We thought the priority was to help him to make sure he was 100 per cent recovered. I think he showed today that he was.
“He suffered an injury and we were all worried. We would all have preferred it not to have happened, but it did. I am sad he was not at the training camps with everyone else. They were vital, but the priority was for him to recover from his shoulder [injury].”
Questions will now be asked about Cuper’s future, but the 62-year-old is holding on to a slim hope Egypt could yet make it into the knockout stage.
“Whether I should stay in my post or not does not only depend on me. If those responsible are not happy with what I have done then I will be the first to leave, no doubt about that,” Cuper added.
“We still have another match to play. It’s difficult to say this but in a World Cup you have to wait until the very last minute, although it’s true that our chances are minimal.”