Things got even worse for Egypt as they were beaten by Arab rivals Saudi Arabia in their final group game picking up no points in the process.
Prior to the game, Egypt were boosted by the return to the starting XI of captain and 45-year-old goalkeeper Essam El Hadary, who became the oldest player to play in a World Cup game.
The pharaohs took the lead against the run of play in the 22nd minute when Abdallah Said played a long ball down the middle over the two Saudi Arabian defenders, which Salah managed to latch on to and lob over the goalkeeper, Yasser Almosailem.
Just three minutes later Salah had the opportunity to double Egypt’s lead after beating the high lined offside trap. He was one-on-one with the keeper but managed to unbelievably chip wide.
Two minutes before halftime Saudi Arabia won a penalty after a low cross hit the trailing arm of Ahmed Fathi. The penalty seemed harsh as his arm was behind him and he had no awareness of the ball. Essam El Hadary, who has been a penalty-saving specialist over his long career, made the headlines yet again with an excellent save to parry the ball onto the bar and save the penalty.
In the fourth minute of injury time, Saudi Arabia were awarded yet another penalty for a very weak challenge by Aly Gabr on the Saudi Arabian striker. Saudi changed penalty takers and AL Faraj sent El Hadary the wrong way to equalise before halftime.
Egypt’s second-half performance was one of the worst under Hector Cuper as it seemed the players had simply given up. Saudi Arabia dominated in every aspect and Egypt struggled to get on the ball against the second lowest ranked side in the tournament after Russia.
Egypt’s pride was lost against its Arab rivals in the 95th minute when a series of poor defensive errors led to Al Dawsari firing low into the net from the right-hand side after being played onside by Aly Gabr and not being tracked by Tarek Hamed.
Another last minute goal conceded by Egypt under Cuper shows worrying signs of a mentality issue and a lack of concentration before half time and full time.
Egypt’s World Cup campaign has been nothing but a disappointment, but an expected one. For the last three years, Hector Cuper has set up the Egypt side up to sit back and defend, putting 11 players behind the ball in attempts to absorb pressure deep inside their own half.
This may have worked against un-organised teams in the African competition, but his tactics were exposed in the recent friendlies and in the tournament. However, he was too stubborn to change his mind tactically.
Egypt had no form of tactical attacking style or gameplay. All they attempted to do on the counter was to play long balls over the top to Salah, which was thwarted and easily recognised by all three teams in Egypt’s group.
Also, throughout the tournament, there were a series of mistakes by the Egypt players that led to initial goals by the opposition. Once an opposition team scored under Cuper the chances of an Egyptian comeback were near impossible, as Cuper never had a plan B.
The players and especially Mohamed Salah were also heavily affected by a series of events off the field which may have affected their performance on it.
It was heavily reported that Salah and his agent were upset at the fact Mohamed was used as a puppet for political gain by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Salah was forced by the Egyptian FA to take pictures and have private meals with him, which eventually led to Salah being offered the highest political honour of Chechnya.
Furthermore, it was reported that the Egyptian FA allowed celebrities and fans into the team hotel to take pictures with the players without the players’ permission at night, for possible financial gains. Lastly, the team were affected by the amount of travel time on economy style seats. Egypt already had the longest distance to travel in the group stages and were not helped by the fact that their base camp in Grozny increased the distance even more.
After the abysmal World Cup performance, the Egyptian FA announced it will not renew Hector Cuper’s contract which is due to expire at the end of the World Cup. Egypt is now on the search for a new manager, with Herve Renard and Carlos Quieroz potential candidates.