Egypt’s World Cup hopes were left in tatters after a disastrous spell at the start of the second half in Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to hosts Russia but Mohamed Salah’s absence in the build-up to the tournament also played its part, coach Hector Cuper said.
Egypt’s talisman scored a consolation penalty as he started his first World Cup game in Group A after recovering from the injury suffered in last month’s Champions League final but made little other impact in a match his side needed to win.
He looked to be protecting his shoulder as he stayed away from physical contact and was not required to track back, leaving Egypt’s midfield often overwhelmed at the Saint Petersburg Stadium.
“Nobody can argue about Salah’s importance to the team and we’ve been worried since he got injured and it would have been preferable to have had him at our training camp in the build-up to the tournament,” said Cuper.
“But obviously we couldn’t do that, as the priority was to get him fit again.
“When we talk about him being 100 percent fit, I have to go with my medical team, and with the player, who said he could play. I was also convinced he was in optimal shape.
“It’s hard to say what would have happened if he was on top form but I always say that behind one or two brilliant players there has to be a team.”
That team, Cuper added, went to sleep after halftime as Russia rattled in three goals to put themselves on the cusp of advancing to the next round.
“We had a good first half but then we had 10-15 really bad minutes and that’s why we lost. We did not defend well,” he said.
A needless punch from goalkeeper Mohamed al-Shenawy led to a horror own goal from Ahmed Fathi in the 47th minute. Russia got their second little more than ten minutes later when Egypt’s defense was cut apart by a run from full back Mario Fernandes who then set up Denis Cheryshev to finish.
Three minutes after that, Artem Dzyuba put the result beyond doubt when he chested down a long ball, put it through center back Ali Gabr’s legs and fired home.
“I don’t think it was a lack of concentration. Nobody can be distracted playing at a World Cup. Sometime mistakes happen,” the Egypt coach added.