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The countdown
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 15 - 03 - 2018

It's getting closer to the World Cup finals in Russia this summer. With less than 90 days to go for the world's most prestigious sports event, all 32 nations which qualified will start their training camps and preparations for the final stage.
According to the international FIFA calendar, 20 March to 28 March is the FIFA window for the teams to hold training sessions and play friendly games. Consequently, all national and domestic leagues across the world will be taking off.
On Tuesday, the Egyptian Football Association held a press conference at its headquarters during which its President Hani Abu Rida and Head Coach Hector Cuper revealed to the media the Pharaohs' future plans for the World Cup as well as technical and administrative matters regarding the upcoming training camp.
Abu Rida thanked the sponsors and partners of the association for their continuous support for the Pharaohs since the Nations Cup of last year until Egypt's qualifications to the World Cup. Abu Rida, a FIFA council member, also called on the Egyptian media to support the national team at the upcoming World Cup.
Cuper said he was glad with the achievements of the past three years since he took over. “I would like to thank everyone involved in our success including the association, sponsors and partners, my technical, medical and administrative staff as well as the Egyptian fans. They are all part of our success.
“I am also happy because the Egyptian people are happy. I felt their support, appreciation and faith in us after we came runners up at the Africa Cup of Nations even though we didn't win the title. And I felt their passion with their strong enthusiasm and support for us at crucial times during the qualifying games for the World Cup.
“I can't reveal right now my plans for the game against Portugal. This is a big team, the European champions, and we have the best players on the continent. We are just making our best preparations in the five friendly matches we are going to take on before the World Cup.
“As for the World Cup, I can say that we are optimistic, all of us, the players and technical staff and the Egyptians. We will go to the World Cup with all hope to give a positive display there in Russia. We are looking forward to making it to the second round and even going further,” Cuper said.
Team manager Ihab Leheta gave a detailed account about the administration part of the national team. “Our strategy has three phases. The first was qualifying to the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon in 2017 and reaching the final match. The second was qualifying for the World Cup, which we succeeded in. The World Cup in June and July will be our last phase.
The Pharaohs' press conference
“The Zurich training camp is the first step in our final preparations for the World Cup. Egypt has chosen Zurich, Switzerland, to hold its training camp from 20 to 28 March. The selected squad of 28 players includes 17 professional-based players and 11 home-based players. During the training camp, the Pharaohs will play two friendly games on 23 March against Portugal and on 27 March against Greece. Both games will be played in Zurich,” Leheta said, adding that FIFA has approved these two games as international friendlies. “We have informed FIFA with these two games and they have confirmed their approval. This is really important as international friendly games count in the monthly FIFA rankings,” Leheta said.
The training camp and the friendly matches will be the perfect chance for Argentinian Cuper to test all his selected players. He has called up players based in Europe and Arab countries Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in addition to players from Ahly, Zamalek, Ismaili and Enppi of the domestic league
Before selecting the players, Cuper and his technical staff had been touring Europe and countries where Egyptians are playing for an assessment. According to analyst and assistant coach Mahmoud Fayez, it is usually better to watch the players in action on the pitch, not on TV. “Coaches prefer watching from the stands because you have to follow your player as he runs back and forth. But if you are watching on television, you will only see what you have on the screen. From the stands, you can focus on details and the performances and reactions of the players in different situations and positions on the pitch. This is why it is important to travel around, hectic as it is,” Fayez explained to Al-Ahram Weekly.
The training camp in Zurich will also see two new members joining the technical and medical staff: fitness and strength coach John Kiely and nutritionist Laurent Bannock as part of the DNAFit programme which Egypt is applying to its players.
But that will not be all for the Pharaohs as there are plans for other friendlies, also abroad. According to Leheta, the second and final training camp will start after 20 May. “This is when all domestic leagues will have come to an end according to FIFA regulations before the World Cup. On 19 May the national team will have an official training camp at Cairo Stadium, then enter a two-day training camp in Cairo before flying to Kuwait to play a friendly on 26 May against Kuwait, then travel on 27 May to Italy to meet Colombia in the second friendly on 1 June, then to Belgium on 4 June to face Belgium in Brussels on 6 June. The Pharaohs will return on 7 June, have a two-day break, then fly directly to its camp in Grouzni on 10 June, five days before its opening match in the tournament,” Leheta said.
Egypt begins its FIFA World Cup 2018 campaign with its Group A fixture against Uruguay on 15 June before facing host nation Russia on 19 June. It completes its group stage matches when it faces Saudi Arabia on 25 June.

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