Mission Maracanã 2014: How will the Pharaohs line-up against Ghana?
Ahead of Egypt’s crucial World Cup play-off against Ghana, KingFut’s Karim Morcos gives his opinion on how the Pharaohs may line-up in Kumasi.
180 minutes split in two, a total of three hours, with the dream of 90 million Egyptians on the line. With only two appearances at the World Cup finals to date and a wait of twenty four years since their last qualification, Egypt may finally qualify to the greatest carnival in the world of football, again.
Seeded in Pot 2 (thanks to FIFA Rankings), Egypt is set to face strong West African giants Ghana in Kumasi on 15 October and at home on 19 November, in one of the biggest clashes to be played in the history of World Cup qualifiers.
These two matches might be Bob Bradley’s toughest in his coaching career. Ghana is a young, fast and strong side, a team everyone would like to avoid at this level. On the other hand, Egypt has now built a strong side too, combining youth with experienced players playing domestically, and now even in Europe.
Looking at the national team’s starting XI in the four qualification matches played in 2013, it shows that Bradley has used twenty two different players. Only three players started the four games (Ahmed Shedid Qenawi, Mohamed Abou-Treika and Mohamed Salah), another three players started three out of the four games (Sherif Ekramy, Ahmed Fathi and Wael Gomaa), five players started two (Mohamed Naguib, Ahmed Hegazy, Hossam Ashour, Mohamed El-Nenny and Amr El-Sulaya) and eleven players featured once in Bradley’s starting XI (Ahmed Eid, Ahmed Gaafar, Mohamed Ibrahim, Abdel-Wahed El-Sayed, Ahmed Elmohamady, Mahmoud Fathallah, Adam El-Abd, Hosni Abd-Rabo, Hossam Ghaly, Mahmoud Abdel-Razik ‘Shikabala’ and Gedo).
Reading Bradley’s game, it’s obvious that he uses the “4-2-3-1” formation, noted as one of the best tactical formations both attacking wise and defensively.
For the two Ghana games and after announcing the squad list, now the American coach has the best variety to choose from. Everyone of them has his own better game than the others.
Starting with the goalkeepers, Bradley called up Mohamed Sobhy, Ahmed El-Shennawy and Sherif Ekramy. Both Sobhy and El-Shennawy didn’t have a lot of playing time with their clubs in the past couple of months, especially not as much as Ekramy did. Ekramy is now marked as one of the best shot-stoppers in Egypt. Maybe he is not the best one around when it comes to his aerial abilities, but this doesn’t stop him from being the best goalkeeper in Egypt and Bradley’s current first choice for the number 1 shirt.
In the back four, from left to right, Bradley called up four left backs (Shedid, Moawad, Abdel-Shafy, A. Farag) which is a very big number for a position only one player was a constant choice in. Ahmed Shedid Qenawi is one of the best in the position now, rotating the starting spot in Al-Ahly with Sayed Moawad didn’t stop him from being a 4 out of 4 starter for the national team. He has got the pace, smart crosses and energetic defending which Bradley is an admirer of.
Moving to the center backs, with already a spot reserved for the national team captain Wael Gomaa, the second spot might be the American’s worst headache. With Hegazy seriously injured again, there might be no one as good as Rami Rabia to fill this place. But the 20-year-old Ahly defender, even with captaining the U-20 national team at the World Cup in Turkey, isn’t experienced enough for that role. This may bring Bradley to the England-born Adam El-Abd, who has yet to convince many Egyptians of his abilities, but in my opinion he is the best option for now.
Switching to the other side, Ahmed Fathi and Ahmed Elmohamady were called up. Comparing the two of them, Elmohamady might be better with crosses and having the ability to cover longer distances slightly faster. Fathi on the other hand, is more mature defensively and an energy bomb on the right flank. He can also play as a centre-back, full-back, wing-back and a defensive midfielder. Fathi will likely be Bradley’s first choice for this place.
Now to the midfield area, the operating system of any football team. Against a midfield of Kwadwo Asamoah, Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng, Egypt need to fill in the very best at the heart of midfield. First of all, a ball winning midfielder is a must. El-Nenny is the strongest candidate for this role, a three-lung player in the deep defensive role who sweeps the ball away and often retains the team’s possession. The second player, a box-to-box player, ex-Al-Ahly captain and Lierse midfielder Hossam Ghaly who can easily play this role, with his technical and tactical abilities and captaincy spirit he can easily boss the midfield on one of his normal days.
Ibrahim Salah and Amr El-Sulaya can also be used as decent backup in case any thing happened to El-Nenny or Ghaly. Moving upfront a bit, for the attacking midfielder or better known as the playmaker, no one other than Mohamed Abou-Treika can do it better for the Pharaohs. El Magico proved to his critics every time on the highest level that he is still up for it. A potential problem is that the speed of the opposing midfield could stop Abou-Treika, but he has the ability to use his one-touch technique to overcome that. A player like him will definitely be a threat, maybe even the match winner.
Upfront, Bradley plays with two wingers and a target man. A spot reserved for Egypt’s gem Mohamed Salah, a player who proved himself so far in the highest levels of all. A game against Marcelo in the Olympics, a game against Gareth Bale in the Europa League and also a game against Ashley Cole in the Europa League and another one in the Champions League this season. Salah’s left foot will Egypt’s biggest threat to the Ghanaian side. Featuring and scoring six goals in six 2014 World Cup qualifiers definitely makes his spot reserved.
On the other flank, Shikabala, Walid Soliman, Abdullah El-Said, Kahraba and Ahmed Temsah were called up. With already a leftie in the team, Salah, Shikabala and Walid Soliman’s chances may be less than that of Abdullah El-Said, Kahraba and even Temsah.
The target man role, maybe a couple months back, would have been easily said to be reserved for Gedo, but with the Hull City striker still regaining match fitness while Amr Zaki returned with a solid performance and a goal in the last qualifier, the Bulldozer will make him a strong contender for the starting place. Yet, Gedo’s pace, skills, strong shots and most important of all his game-winning goal against Ghana in the 2010’s ACN gives him the edge for the position.
Finally, it is important to mention Bradley’s hard work and commitment throughout the past couple of years. He stood tall and held on to the team when other Egyptians did not. Just two games and 90 million Egyptians’ dream are on the line. It could be just a couple of months or another four-year wait. One dream, El Maracanã.
Karim Morcos’ starting XI:
GK: Sherif Ekramy
RB: Ahmed Fathi
CB: Wael Gomaa; Adam El-Abd
LB: Ahmed Shedid Qenawi
DMF: Mohamed El-Nenny; Hossam Ghaly
AMF: Mohamed Abou-Treika
LW: Abdullah El-Saied
RW: Mohamed Salah
FW: Mohamed Nagy ‘Gedo’
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