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Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 31 - 05 - 2018

Egypt were held to a 1-1 draw with Kuwait in the build-up to next month's World Cup. On 1 June the Pharaohs will face Colombia in the Italian city of Bergamo before concluding their preparations with another high-profile friendly against a star-lodged Belgium side five days later in Brussels.
The Argentinean Hector Cuper, Egypt's national team coach, told Al-Ahram Weekly that he chose these three teams for their warm-up matches as they represent to some extent the teams that Egypt will face in the World Cup. He added that he will try to make some changes in the team's playing style before the finals in Russia.
Egypt will kick-off their Group A World Cup campaign on 15 June against South American powerhouses Uruguay, then face hosts Russia on 19 June. Their final group stage match will be against Arab Gulf side Saudi Arabia on 25 June.
“I agree that the team's style of playing doesn't meet the fans' expectations, but that's what we needed in order to accomplish such an achievement as qualifying for the World Cup, as well as positive results in the previous three years,” Cuper said in a press conference ahead of the friendly against Kuwait. “What if I followed the fans choices and I lose in all my matches? I am quite sure that we are doing our best and it is too early to judge the team's performance. I will try to make some changes in the coming matches,” said the 62 year-old.
“We will play three friendlies with different football teams ahead of the World Cup,” Cuper said, adding, “We are working to make use of the Kuwait, Colombia and Belgium friendly games in order to be ready for the 2018 World Cup finals. The main target of playing friendly games is to choose the final 23-player squad that will take part in the World Cup,” he said.
At the Jaber al-Ahmad International Stadium on Friday on 25 May, the stands were packed with Egyptian expatriates but to the surprise of all Egypt fell behind 1-0 to Kuwait which had only recently had its two and a half year suspension by FIFA from all football activities for government interference lifted.
Fahad Al Ansari stunned Egypt, who are 114 positions above Kuwait in the FIFA world rankings, only six minutes into the game before substitute Ayman Ashraf scored the equaliser for the Pharaohs with 10 minutes to go to end 1-1.
The Pharaohs struggled to carve out openings despite their territorial dominance, with wingers Ramadan Sobhi, who had a disappointing season at Premier League's relegated side Stoke City, and Atromitos' attacking midfielder Amr Warda giving away possession all too often.
Cuper gave debuts to Zamalek duo Mahmoud Hamdi and Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz and tested other fringe players, including RC Lens left-back Karim Hafez, as he seeks to settle on his final 23-squad for the Russia finals.
Egypt were missing the services of both Aston Villa's Ahmed Al-Mohamadi and Liverpool's Mo Salah who was to play in the European Champions League final against Real Madrid a day later, while Arsenal's injured midfielder Mohamed Al-Nenni was available but just for rehabilitation.
The Egyptians had lost to European champions Portugal 2-1 and Greece 1-0 in earlier friendlies in March.
Cuper said the team's performance against Kuwait was more important than the result, and insisted that the team needs more time and patience to adapt ahead of the World Cup.
“Sure, the draw against Kuwait is better than a loss. I know the fans are concerned about the result, even in the friendly matches, but I have my sight on other important things,” Cuper said after the match. “We should take into consideration that the players just returned from a break after the season's end, so we still need extra time and patience to adapt ahead of the World Cup.”
Hani Abu Reida, Egyptian football federation president, told the press that he had still not signed Cuper to a new contract but will do his best to make him stay. “It is the first time for the Egyptian football team to train under a famous coach who is one of the top six in the world.” Abu Reida added that he did not think that a local head coach for the team was the right choice at present because Egyptian coaches are not progressing well. “I am sure that the young coaches will be able to help themselves soon to be able to train our national teams very soon.
“Of course we have very difficult group matches but I am very optimistic and I think we will be able to make it to the second round” of the World Cup, Abu Reida said.
The seven-time African champions have this year reached the World Cup for the first time since 1990.
The Egyptian national team sponsor company has designed a special vehicle for the national team to use throughout their last three friendlies which attracted the attention of spectators.

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