Egypt looking wobbly ahead of Portugal, Greece warmups

FILE - In this Oct. 8, 2017 file photo, Egypt's Mohamed Salah sings the national anthem before the 2018 World Cup group E qualifying soccer match between Egypt and Congo at the Borg El Arab Stadium in Alexandria. Egypt’s first World Cup warmup will be against Portugal in a match that could have two of the most prolific scorers in soccer going up against each other. The Egyptians will be led by Liverpool forward Mohammed Salah. On the other side is Cristiano Ronaldo. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)
In this Tuesday, March 20, 2018 photo released by Egypt's national Airline, Egypt Air, the Egyptian national football team and Egypt Air staff pose for a photo in front of a specially decorated plane that will take them to Russia for the 2018 FIFA World cup, at Cairo Airport, Egypt. Egypt’s first World Cup warmup will be against Portugal in a match that could have two of the most prolific scorers in soccer going up against each other. The Egyptians will be led by Liverpool forward Mohammed Salah. On the other side is Cristiano Ronaldo. (Egypt Air via AP)

CAIRO — Egypt's first World Cup warmup will be against Portugal, a match that could have two of the most prolific scorers in soccer going up against each other.

The Egyptians, who will play at the World Cup for the first time in 28 years, will be led by Mohammed Salah. The Liverpool forward scored four goals in the Premier League on Saturday.

On the other side is Cristiano Ronaldo, the world player of the year who scored four goals for Real Madrid on Sunday.

After facing Portugal on Friday in Zurich, the Egyptians have another warm-up match against Greece on Tuesday in the same Swiss city. At the World Cup, Egypt is in Group A along with host Russia, Uruguay and Saudi Arabia.

Here are some things to watch out for in the squad:

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ATTACK

With 36 goals in all competitions, Mohammed Salah remains the go-to man in a squad that has no one with a similar scoring touch. And it's a problem.

Manchester United midfielder Ashley Young marked Salah so closely in a recent Premier League game that he was unable to get a single shot on target. To prevent a repeat while playing for Egypt, Salah's likely partners in attack — Mahmoud Hassan and Mahmoud Abdel-Monaim — need to raise their game.

Another attacking option is Stoke City midfielder Ramadan Sobhi, but the 21-year-old forward has not been playing much and has only two goals to his name after nine starts so far this season.

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DEFENSE

West Bromwich Albion defender Ahmed Hegazi is the jewel of Egypt's defense.

Next to him might be club teammate Ali Gabr, who has been sitting on the bench since moving on loan to the English team from Egyptian club Zamalek about two months ago.

Al-Ahly defender Ramy Rabiah, a longtime fixture in the national squad, is injured, and club teammate Saad Sameer has yet to gain match fitness after a long injury.

The predicament in defense could hand another Al-Ahly defender, Ayman Ashraf, his first taste of international soccer.

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GOALKEEPER

At 45, Essam el-Hadary will be the oldest goalkeeper ever to play in a World Cup if he keeps his place in the squad.

El-Hadary was the starting goalkeeper in qualifying, but he has been leaking goals in Saudi Arabia recently, including five in one recent league match.

He remains capable of pulling off some match-saving saves, but he has also shown in recent years some lapses of judgment and occasional slow reflexes. His vast experience could serve him well, however, by putting him at the top of Egypt coach Hector Cuper's pecking order.

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MIDFIELD

Al-Ahly playmaker Abdullah el-Said has been a key member of the squad in recent years, but has found himself in trouble with his team in recent days after secretly agreeing to join crosstown rival Zamalek amid negotiations over a contract extension with his club.

El-Said decided to stay with his club, which in turn suspended him for the remainder of the season and put him up for a transfer.

El-Said is traveling with the squad to Switzerland for the Portugal and Greece friendlies, but is reportedly in a bad way psychologically.

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