North African team’s chances of making it out of Group A effectively over after they lost 3-1 to hosts in St Petersburg on Tuesday night
Hector Cuper: future uncertain after Egypt's and Mohamed Salah's probable World Cup exit
Hector Cuper acknowledged his future is uncertain following Egypt’s potentially defining World Cup defeat to Russia, as the Argentine lamented not having Mohamed Salah available for the entirety of the tournament.
Egypt’s chances of making it out of Group A are effectively over after they lost 3-1 to the hosts in St Petersburg on Tuesday night.
The North Africans, appearing at the World Cup for the first time since 1990, were outdone by an Ahmed Fathi own goal just after half time and then two goals in three minutes around the hour.
The result means Egypt, who also lost to Uruguay last Friday, require an incredibly unlikely set of circumstances to make it out of Group A and advance to the last 16. Only a Saudi Arabia victory against Uruguay on Wednesday would keep alive their hopes.
That has cranked up the pressure on Cuper, with his three-year tenure appearing close to conclusion despite an extension to his contract being previously discussed. Egypt finish their group campaign against Saudi Arabia in Volgograd on Monday.
Asked immediately after the Russia defeat if his job was in jeopardy, Cuper said: "Whether I should stay in my post or not does not only depend on me. If those responsible are not happy with what I have done then I will be the first to leave, no doubt about that.
“We still have another match to play. It's difficult to say this, but in a World Cup you have to wait until the very last minute, although it's true that our chances are minimal."
Egypt’s chance would have undoubtedly been better had Salah bit fit to play from the beginning of the tournament. The Liverpool forward scored 44 goals in his debut season for the club, but was forced out early of last month’s Uefa Champions League final after injuring his shoulder.
Salah was therefore not involved in training with his national team until just before they left for Russia. He returned to the match-day squad for the Uruguay match, but Cuper chose not to introduce him from the substitute’s bench as Egypt lost 1-0 in the final minute.
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"Nobody can deny his importance," Cuper said. "It’s hard to say what would have happened had he been on top form. Salah was feeling good to play, he was in shape.
"I always say behind a brilliant player there has to be a team. I am proud because there is a team. Perhaps we weren't decisive enough, but we have to recognise the great effort they have done after 28 years of Egypt not taking part in a World Cup.
"What if he hadn't injured himself in the Champions League final? Then he would have been able to train with the same intensity as the rest of the team. We thought the priority was to help him to make sure he was 100 per cent recovered. I think he showed today that he was.
"He suffered an injury and we were all worried. We would all have preferred it not to have happened, but it did. I am sad he was not at the training camps with everyone else. They were vital, but the priority was for him to recover from his shoulder [injury]."
Egypt are now without a victory in eight matches stretching back to when they secured qualification last October. Cuper has been criticised constantly for what many perceive to be negative tactics, but he said Tuesday's defeat was simply because of that initial spell at the beginning of the second half in St Petersburg.
"The team has always defended well,” the former Al Wasl manager said. "Today we had 10 or 15 very bad minutes, that’s why we lost. I don’t think it was lack of concentration.
"You can’t be distracted when you’re playing at the World Cup. But sometimes a mistake can be made, a miscalculation, a bad step. Perhaps we made some mistakes we didn’t make against Uruguay. But that’s how matches work."