Despite again declaring his star Mohamed Salah to be fit, Egypt boss Hector Cuper also said the Liverpool man is facing a late fitness test before facing Russia in World Cup Group A.
Salah swept to a host of end-of-season awards after his stunning debut campaign at Liverpool yielded a remarkable 44 goals in all competitions.
However, he signed off 2017-18 on a note of bitter disappointment, as a shoulder injury sustained in a grappling challenge with Sergio Ramos saw the 26-year-old substituted 30 minutes into last month’s 3-1 Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid.
The Egyptian Football Association declared Salah fit to face Uruguay in the tournament opener – a verdict Cuper concurred with pre-match before opting against risking his prized asset in the 1-0 defeat.
Speaking ahead of Tuesday’s match in St Petersburg, Cuper again put himself at odds with his federation by insisting final medical checks must be carried out, although he expects Salah to face hosts buoyed by a 5-0 thrashing of Saudi Arabia.
“Salah is fit. In the previous match against Uruguay we thought he was fit also but we always draw up a last physical test,” the former Valencia boss explained.
“Today we’ll have an important test for him to see how he does. I think he will be fit to play. He is an important part of our team.
“Tomorrow I am optimistic he’ll be able to play.”
On Sunday, Salah’s agent Ramy Abbas Issa said his client would be ready to face Russia, tweeting simply: “Mohamed is fit.”
Russia boss Stanislav Cherchesov declared himself confident of managing to shackle the prolific attacker if Salah is put through his paces effectively.
“I guess each coach has his or her strategy and they prepare matches according to their philosophy,” Cherchesov said.
“We need to bear in mind that there is not only one player on the pitch. I don’t think the coach will focus just on Salah.
“We prepare matches not basing ourselves solely on how to stop one player such as Salah.”
Ready for tomorrow.
100 million strong. @adidasfootball #HereToCreate pic.twitter.com/03BI9CQbgI
— Mohamed Salah (@MoSalah) June 18, 2018
Although keen to shield the other members of his Pharoahs’ squad from accusations of being passengers in a one-man team, Cuper acknowledged Egypt’s hopes of avoiding an early exit would be greatly increased by having his world-class star available.
“Salah is one of the best players in the world. He is in the top 10 for me, there is no shadow of doubt about it,” he said. “It is an honour and privilege to coach him.
“On top of being talented he is humble. He plays as a team player and that for me is extremely important nowadays.
“He is important to us and I say that with all due respect to the other players in the Egyptian squad.”