CAIRO (Reuters) - Despite a heart-wrenching last-gasp loss to Uruguay on Friday in their first World Cup appearance in 28 years, Egyptians were optimistic about their chances after nearly forcing a draw without talismanic forward Mohamed Salah.
At street cafes tightly packed with red and black national jersey-clad fans, Egyptians let out a long collective groan as Uruguay’s Jose Gimenez headed an 89th-minute header to secure a 1-0 victory for his side.
Still, Egyptians, who have been on tenterhooks over news of whether Salah would recover from a shoulder injury in time to play, said the battling performance was a positive omen.
“Even without Mohamed Salah the national team performed well. All players are playing well and Trezeguet did well,” said 20-year old Saeed Aly, referring to the nickname of Egyptian midfielder Mahmoud Hassan.
All eyes have been on Salah, who was injured in last month’s Champions League final after scoring 44 goals in the season for Liverpool, stunning his soccer-crazy home country of 100 million people.
Egypt coach Hector Cuper said this week Salah had a “great chance” of playing against Uruguay, but the seven-times African champions chose to keep him on the substitutes’ bench to rest before the game against hosts Russia on Tuesday.
“There has to be better planning for the attack. There has to be player movement. I think our defence was good but the attacking movement was zero relative to all other teams,” said 33-year old Mahmoud Badri.
Reporting by Mostafa Salem,; Writing by Eric Knecht, editing by Ed Osmond