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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Mohamed Elneny nears return to hand Egypt a timely boost in final World Cup warm-up match against Belgium

Arsenal midfielder has been sidelined with an ankle injury since April but should make his return in Wednesday's friendly

Egypt manager Hector Cuper could welcome Mohamed Elneny back into his side against Belgium. Paolo Magni / EPA
Egypt manager Hector Cuper could welcome Mohamed Elneny back into his side against Belgium. Paolo Magni / EPA

Egypt hope to welcome back from injury Arsenal's Mohamed Elneny when they take on Belgium on Wednesday in their final World Cup warm-up match.

The North Africans, still uncertain about the timing of Mohamed Salah’s return to the team, face the world No 3-ranked side in Brussels as they round off their friendly programme ahead of a first global finals in 28 years.

Egypt drew their penultimate warm-up against Colombia in Italy last Friday, meaning they have won only two of their past nine fixtures.

However, they should be buoyed by Elneny’s availability after the Arsenal midfielder stepped up rehabilitation last week from ankle ligament damage sustained in April.

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Despite the seriousness of the setback, Elneny was always hopeful of making the World Cup. He was included in Hector Cuper’s provisional 29-man squad for Russia and was then named on Monday in Egypt’s final list.

The former Basel star’s form had been improving in the second half of the 2017/18 Premier League season, prompting him to sign a new, long-term contract with Arsenal in March. Yet the injury picked up against West Ham United the following month had threatened his international prospects.

In contrast to Elneny's participation against Belgium, Egypt could be without playmaker Abdallah El Said for the match. The attacking midfielder, 32, did not take part in his team’s group training in Italy on Monday because of a slight problem in his hamstring.

El Said, who currently represents Al Ahli in Saudi Arabia, carries a significant amount of Egypt’s attacking thrust, especially in Salah’s absence. He scored vital goals in the qualifiers against Congo and Ghana.

Following the Belgium encounter, Egypt will return to Cairo for a few days’ training before they leave for Russia on Sunday. Placed in Group A alongside hosts Russia, Uruguay and Saudi Arabia, they kick off their campaign on June 15 against the South Americans in Yekaterinburg.

It remains to be seen whether Salah will be passed fit for the opener, after the Liverpool forward injured his left shoulder during last month’s Uefa Champions League final against Real Madrid.

Nevertheless, Egypt’s return to the world stage constitutes a real source of pride for the country. The significance of the tournament has not been lost on Omar Gaber, the Los Angeles FC defender currently on loan from Swiss side Basel.

“After 28 years, I think it is special for this generation [to play in the World Cup],” Gaber told the Los Angeles FC official Twitter account. “All the people will remember us after we retire. I’m so proud that I will represent my country and my national team in the World Cup.

“It’s a big honour for sure, so I’m so happy and so excited as well. Hopefully we will be able to perform and do well at the tournament.”

Meanwhile, Uruguay defender Diego Godin is under no illusion of the threat posed by Egypt next week, with or without Salah.

“Egypt are the first opponent we have ahead and it is the most important game in our heads at the moment,” he said. “It is a difficult team. They are organised and have a great coach with very clear ideas.

“We will see if Salah will play or not; it is clear that he is an important weapon for Egypt. Whether he plays or not, our plans and preparations will not change. It is evident that Egypt are changing and their potential will grow with Salah. He is a crucial player and decisive players make the difference.”

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