Egypt forward Mohamed Salah has recovered from a shoulder injury and is almost 100 percent certain to play in their World Cup opener against Uruguay, coach Hector Cuper said on Thursday, ending weeks of suspense about the fitness of his most dangerous striker.
Cuper went further by predicting on the eve of the match that Salah could emerge as one of the tournament’s most prolific goalscorers.
“Mo is doing very well indeed. He’s recovered very, very quickly - we’ve paid a lot of attention to him,” the veteran coach told a news conference before the squad’s last training session ahead of Friday’s match.
“I can almost assure you 100 percent that he will play, save unforeseen circumstances at the very last minute.”
Salah, who scored 44 goals for Liverpool last season, injured shoulder ligaments in the Champions League final defeat by Real Madrid on May 26 and has not played since, keeping fans in suspense before Egypt’s first World Cup finals in 28 years.
Cuper shrugged off any doubts over whether Salah, who turns 26 on the day of the match, would feel sufficiently confident of his physical state to be able to perform at his best.
“We’re trying to make him feel confident - even the doctors are giving him the option to play or not, but I know Salah very well and I’m sure he’s not afraid, he’s not fearful,” he said.
“In terms of him on the pitch - if he does decide to play he’ll have full guarantees in terms of his physical condition, he’s going to be fine. Certainly he doesn’t feel afraid.”
Egypt are back in the World Cup finals for the first time since 1990 and their progress to the last-16 could hinge on Salah enjoying the form that saw him voted England’s Player of the Year by his fellow professionals.
Uruguay are the toughest opponents for the north African team, and they will fancy their chances of advancing from Group A, which also includes Russia and Saudi Arabia.
In the second match of the day, Portugal begin their tournament on Friday against Iberian neighbours Spain and are aiming to do something that only three teams have ever done before by winning the World Cup immediately after winning the Euros.
They are European Champions and have five-times World Player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks but few people have rated Portugal as World Cup favourites — and that is no big deal for Joao Moutinho.
The Portuguese midfielder is well aware his country are flying under the radar as all the talk about possible champions focuses on the usual big names Brazil, Germany, France and Spain.
“We have talked a lot about that,” Moutinho told reporters ahead of Friday’s opening match against Spain. “The favourites are the ones you listed.
“Portugal is among the candidates to take this cup home. It is normal to have other favourites given all they have achieved. We are European champions but that doesn’t give us the right to be favourites.
“We have a young and focussed team and an ambitious team that is aiming high.”
The generalised lack of belief in their chances may be related to their recent form, an old problem and a question mark surrounding team morale.
Portugal sailed through the qualifiers, winning nine of their 10 games, but their long unbeaten run ended in March and they drew their next two matches before recovering to win a final warmup friendly with Algeria last week.
Portugal also have struggled to get going in big tournaments and have not won their first group game since the 2008 Euros, a string of four fruitless openers.
There is also some conjecture about their mental preparations, with all four of the Sporting Lisbon players in the squad having cancelled their contracts with the club.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Jun 16, 2018 23:07:45 IST