Salah ‘certain to play against Uruguay

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This combination of file pictures created on June 13, 2018 shows Uruguay's forward Edinson Cavani (R) in Rio de Janeiro on June 28, 2014 and Egypt's forward Mohamed Salah in Port-Gentil on January 17, 2017. — AFP

YEKATERINBURG, Russia — Egypt coach Hector Cuper said that star striker Mohamed Salah has recovered from his shoulder injury and will almost certainly play in their World Cup opener against Uruguay Friday.

Salah's return is a massive boost for Egypt and for the tournament in Russia because it means one of the hottest players on the planet at the moment will be in action.

"We still have to see how training goes today, but I can almost assure you 100 percent that he'll play, we are all very optimistic that he will be on the pitch," Cuper said Thursday, shortly before leading out his squad for training at Yekaterinburg Arena — with Salah among them.

The 62-year-old Argentine Cuper added: "Salah is very good and he's recovered very quickly."

Salah, who sustained the injury in Liverpool's Champions League final loss to Real Madrid on May 26, is crucial to Egypt's hopes of making it out of a weak-looking Group A also featuring hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Egypt plays Uruguay — tipped by some to be dark horses — in just the second game of the tournamenty.

Salah was one of the outstanding players in the world this season as he helped propel Liverpool to the Champions League final.

But his World Cup dream was left on the brink when he exited the Champions League final three weeks ago in tears after Real Madrid skipper Sergio Ramos wrestled him to the ground.

Salah, who turns 26 on the day of the game, gave 100 million frantic Egyptians a huge lift Wednesday when he joined a squad training session at their Grozny base.

And Cuper hinted Thursday that it was the player who had the final decision whether to play.

"Doctors are giving him the option," said Cuper.

"If he does decide to play he will have full guarantee (about his condition) and I am sure that he will be fine.

"If we see at the last minute that there is an issue then we will see if it can be resolved, but certainly he does not feel afraid."

Cuper has attempted to dismiss the notion that Egypt is a one-man side, but with 44 goals in all competitions this season for Liverpool, Salah's badly timed injury had become a national obsession back home and made global headlines.

Salah is regarded as a contender for the Ballon d'Or for his spectacular debut season at Anfield, alongside Argentina's Lionel Messi, Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar of Brazil.

Egypt, a no-frills side, plays well on the counterattack under the wily Cuper.

Meanwhile, Uruguay heads into its first game with the focus on stars such as Luiz Suarez but with their World Cup hopes equally resting with veteran coach Oscar Tabarez, who is battling chronic illness.

Friday's game in Yekaterinburg will see the 71-year-old take charge of the famously tournament tough South American side at his fourth World Cup Finals, the first being back in 1990.

In all he has been in charge of Uruguay's national side for more than 180 games.

Along the way Tabarez, nicknamed "El Maestro" (the teacher), known for his undemonstrative manner, guided Uruguay to a fourth-place finish in South Africa in 2010, and each time ensured his team has got out of the group stage.

He has done so while battling a debilitating neurological condition, Guillain-Barre syndrome, which severely restricts his movement — and in Russia may possibly become the first coach in World Cup history to use a wheelchair.

So far, he has been spotted overseeing Uruguay's preparations at their Bor sports center base Monday, just outside the city of Nizhny Novgorod, walking with the aid of a crutch.

But despite the painful personal hurdles, it is clear who is in charge of the Celeste.

"When 'the Maestro' speaks, a fly does not fly," one of the Uruguayan journalists following the team said as the players trained in Bor.

Tabarez, a former primary school teacher who also guided Uruguay to a Copa America title in 2011, has said previously that his condition does not impact upon his job and his health appears better in the approach to Russia.

"I put everything with physiotherapy, with doctors and treatments because I'm not thinking of leaving," he said.

Some had expected him to step down after the last World Cup, but Tabarez continues.

His A-list players are unequivocal in their support for Tabarez.

Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Godin support the coach at every step and consider him "untouchable".

"The team knows that El Maestro does not have to scream to tell you what to do," Suarez told a Uruguayan television documentary about Tabarez. — Agencies


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