The countdown to Kumasi continues as Egyptâ€™s World Cup dream inches ever closer to being realized.
Just 180 minutes of football stand between the Pharaohs and fate. At the forefront? An unlikely figureâ€¦ a football coach â€“ or soccer as he may call it â€“ ironically hailing from a nation that many Egyptians have spent decades blaming for its ills. Following years of unprecedented challenges, from massacres, to league stoppages, to not even finding a place to play, Bob Bradley has the Pharaohs on the cusp of what would be its first World Cup finals appearance in 24 years.
In fact, the New Jersey native and former U.S. national team coach has guided Egypt to the worldâ€™s only perfect 2014 World Cup qualifying record.
For all of the immense obstacles coach Bradley and his team have had to face, it seems only fitting that destiny would throw the highest possible hurdle in his way next.
A team that in 2010 was a penalty shootout away from being the first-ever World Cup semi-finalist from Africa. That squad is the star-studded Black Stars of Ghana, arguably the best team left in this final round of qualifying. To conquer Kumasi, Bradley and his staff must first choose a starting eleven. Some of these slots are a given.
Al-Ahlyâ€™s Mohamed Abou-Treika and FC Baselâ€™s Mohamed Salah for instance are stalwarts, and can be credited with carrying the team â€“ if not just its attack â€“ to where it currently lies. Other spots arenâ€™t such no-brainers, with myriad options and so many factors to consider, from the opposing team and its approach, to the venue. With all that in mind and after very careful deliberation, the KingFut team presents its own Egypt XI to face Ghana and the reasons for our choices. Goalkeeper:
Sherif Ekramy (Hosam El-Aker, @dcgypt) â€“ Considering the names in the squad, this is really the only choice. Abdel-Wahed El-Sayed would have received consideration if he was in the squad. Egypt is still seeking its long-term replacement for Essam El-Hadary.
Sherif Ekramy (Mohamed Al Hendy, @Mo_Hendy) - Out of the three goalkeepers, Ekramyâ€™s been the only one whose gotten to play competitive matches in the last few months, and heâ€™s been Egyptâ€™s No. 1 for a while now anyway. Fairly self-explanatory pick here.
Sherif Ekramy (Youssef El Hadidy, @youssefelhadidy) - It looks like Al-Ahlyâ€™s goalkeeper has reserved his position in Bradleyâ€™s starting lineup with his consistent performances.
Ahmed El-Shennawy (Ahmad Yousef, @EgyptianPlayers) â€“ I rate him very highly, heâ€™s a great keeper and done well at the U21 level, but he is prone to making mistakes. Big future talent.
Sherif Ekramy (Moustafa El Chiati, @MoustafaFC) - I wish I could say El-Hadary. Although El-Shennawy might be more talented, Ekramyâ€™s experience and continuous displays in the CAF Champions League this season makes him favorite for me. He is the more prepared for such a big occasion.
Sherif Ekramy (Omar Niyazi, @OmarNiyazi) â€“ He takes the spot for me. Has been immense in the games that heâ€™s played so far during this campaign. Bearing that in mind, he also has the most game time, other than Abdel-Wahed El-Sayed at the moment, who didnâ€™t make the squad, as opposed to El-Shennawy and Sobhy, who have hardly played lately due to league interruptions. (Adam Moustafa and Mohamed Seif also went with Ekramy.) KingFut consensus: Sherif Ekramy Right-Back:
Ahmed Fathi (Mohamed Al Hendy) - A more difficult call with Ahmed Elmohamady in the mix, but as I said, Bradley will opt to be conservative in the first leg. Fathi is the more experienced, conservative option as Elmohamadyâ€™s game is more attacking and forward than Fathiâ€™s is.
Ahmed Fathi (Hosam El-Aker) â€“ Egypt is weak enough as it is defensively so it would make sense to play the more defensively apt Fathi over the attack-minded Ahmed Elmohamady.
Ahmed Elmohamady (Ahmad Yousef) â€“ An attacking RB who can offer us a different dimension with his hit and miss crossing! An excellent start to the season at Hull as well.
(Adam, Mohamed, Moustafa and Youssef also went with Fathi.)
KingFut consensus: Ahmed Fathi
Wael Gomaa (Hosam El-Aker) - Egyptâ€™s rock in defense for over a decade, Gomaa may have lost a step or two but remains an automatic start due in part to the lack of depth and quality at the position.
Wael Gomaa (Mohamed Al Hendy) - Does anything need to be said here? Even at 38, Gomaa remains Egyptâ€™s first-choice centre-back (while Hegazy is out at least).
Rami Rabia (Omar Niyazi) - The shock of the pick is leaving out Gomaa, who is Egyptâ€™s most experienced defender. Naguib and Rabia have pace over Gomaa. And again, against a team like Ghana, pace at the back is a necessity. They are experienced enough to put in a solid shift, and with Gomaa being a tad erratic lately in the way heâ€™s been playing, I think it would be for the best, at least in the first leg. (Everyone else went with Gomaa.) KingFut consensus: Wael Gomaa Centre-Back (2):
Mohamed Naguib (Mohamed Al Hendy) - In the absence of Hegazy, Mahmoud Fathallah and Adam El-Abd, Naguib is truly the only man that could slot beside Gomaa at CB in this game. He has only around 11 international caps to his name, but many of those have come recently as Bradley has grown to appreciate his game and ability to partner with Gomaa.
Mohamed Naguib (Hosam El-Aker) - This is the only other centre-back on the team getting regular playing time. Rami Rabia can play the position, but did not feature for Al-Ahly in their away draw against Cameroonâ€™s Coton Sport. This is clearly the most worrying position along with the goalkeeper.
Mohamed Naguib (Youssef El Hadidy) - In my opinion Mohamed Naguib would be the best option because of his speed and the chemistry between him and Gomaa.
(The entire team agrees.)
King Fut consensus: Mohamed Naguib
Sayed Moawad (Youssef El Hadidy) - The left-back position will also be a headache for Bradley as there are three players competing for that position including Al-Ahly duo Sayed Mowad and Ahmed Shedid, and Zamalekâ€™s Abdel-Shafy.
Although it may seem like Bradley has plenty of options in that position, the three players are not very strong defensively or physically. However, the best player to fill that position in my opinion is Sayed Moawad because of his long experience on the African fields.
Ahmed Shedid (Hosam El-Aker) - I strongly considered going with Sayed Moawad at left-back. I like his experience and pension for rising up in big games. He was also Ahlyâ€™s first choice at the position in their African Champions league draw against Coton Sport, relegating Shedid to the bench before he made a late appearance as a substitute.
I chose Shedid in the end because I think his speed will help against the likes of Abdul Majeed Waris. I also think Bob Bradley is more comfortable with him as a left-back, and views Moawad as more of a winger.
Ahmed Shedid (Mohamed Al Hendy) - Another no-brainer here. Shedidâ€™s been first-choice at left-back for some time for Egypt (last 4 group WC qualifiers), and Abdel-Shafy will just have to continue accept that.
Mohamed Abdel-Shafy (Adam Moustafa, @egyKF) â€“ Itâ€™s between him and Shedid for me. The last time Moawad has played in a competitive match with the national team was in a 1-1 draw against Central African Republic on June 30th, 2012, so why would he start now? With Ahly, Shedid is starting to take on the left midfielder role more often, any even though the same could probably be said about Abdel-Shafy, the latter is more of a threat going forward and has more much experience at left-back with the Pharaohs.
Sayed Moawad (Moustafa El Chiati) - Although some might go with Abdel-Shafy over Sayed Moawed just because of his pace, Moawad is the experienced one and is the starter for me. Shedid is too weak against this sort of opposition.
Ahmed Shedid (Mohamed Seif, @MohSeif) - At LB, Shedid Qinawi will likely fill that spot rather than the experience of Moawad as Bradley truly trusts his abilities.
KingFut consensus: Ahmed Shedid
Central Defensive Midfielders:
Hossam Ghaly & Hossam Ashour (Youssef El Hadidy) - I would prefer using a three-man midfield of Ashour, Ghaly and El-Nenny for the match in Kumasi to increase Egyptâ€™s defensive stability, but Bradley will probably use his normal 4-2-3-1 formation.
With his sharp passes and strong defensive abilities it looks like Hossam Ghaly has secured his position in the starting lineup as he is the best box-to-box midfielder in Bradleyâ€™s roster, especially after the goal he scored against Guinea.
That leaves one position next to Hossam Ghaly for El-Nenny, Hosni Abd Rabo, Amr El-Suleya and Hossam Ashour to fight for. In my opinion, Hossam Ashour is the best player to accompany Ghaly in that match.
A lot of people may argue that Hossam Ashour is the least talented player of all the midfielders in Bradleyâ€™s roster, but he has a talent none of them have â€“ his ability to run all over the field for 90 minutes and fight for each ball then deliver it safely to the closest player.
Hossam Ghaly & Mohamed El-Nenny (Mohamed Al Hendy) - This partnership just makes sense. Experienced with developing talent, both Europe-based, both in good form.
Abd-Rabo could push one of them out, but now that heâ€™s back in Egypt and not had competitive matches to play for some time, I expect heâ€™ll be one of the first off the bench if Bradley feels he needs an injection of midfield control or offense in the team. Hossam Ghaly Hosni Abd-Rabo & Mohamed El-Nenny (Moustafa El Chiati) - I would play with 3 DMs: The solid Hosni Abd-Rabo (if 100% fit), the talented Hossam Ghaly (could be used as a sweeper if need be) and Basel man Mohamed El-Nenny (his international experience gives him the nod over the reliable Hossam Ashour for me). Hossam Ghaly, Hosni Abd-Rabo & Hossam Ashour (Hosam El-Aker) - Along with a healthy Hosni Abd Rabo, Ghaly remains one of Egyptâ€™s most versatile players. Heâ€™s adequate defensively yet boasts creativity and a nose for goal. He seems to be in solid form and getting regular playing time for Lierse S.K. in Belgium.
Factor in his experience and heâ€™s a sensible start in a critical away match. For Hosni, the decision is contingent upon his health, but the early signs are positive for the influential midfielder whose been aÂ mainstay for the Pharaohs since the mid 2000s. He played the full 90 minutes in Egyptâ€™s most-recent 3-0 friendly win over Uganda and had a marvelous assist.
My thought process here is to load the midfield to combat Ghanaâ€™s prowess in that third of the field. Doing so should also help support Egyptâ€™s poor defense. Ashour is not my favorite player in the world due to his shaky temperament but the proverbial â€œwater carrierâ€ does a lot of the dirty work that coach Bradley loves.
Heâ€™s a favorite of the American tactician and his inclusion will allow both Ghaly and Abd-Rabo room to roam forward more often. Hossam Ghaly & Hosni Abd-Rabo (Adam Moustafa) â€“ Not much more to add regarding the quality and experience of these two central midfielders, but if Hosni Abd-Rabo is deemed 100% match fit by the technical staff, he should definitely start; otherwise Iâ€™d have El-Nenny replace him.
With Hosni, Egypt become a lot more dangerous from range and on set pieces. Letâ€™s not forget in his last competitive fixture for Egypt he scored that superb free-kick at home against Zimbabwe. Hossam Ghaly & Mohamed El-Nenny/Hossam Ashour (Mohamed Seif) - For my first line-up, a trio of El-Nenny and Ghaly with Abd-Rabo in front fill that crucial mid area. Abd-Rabo and Ghaly have both attacking and defensive fluidity, while El-Nenny is sturdy in the middle, stringing around passes.
In my alternative line-up, Ashour replaces El-Nenny in that hole, given his vast experience and blockiness in the middle. Strong as an ox, he also has the capabilities of stopping Ghanaâ€™s strong midfield. (Ahmad Yousef also chose Ghaly and Abd-Rabo.) KingFut consensus: Hossam Ghaly, Hosni Abd-Rabo & either Ashour or El-Nenny, depends on formation Right Midfielder/Winger:
Mohamed Salah (Hosam El-Aker) - Many believe if there was one man on whom Egyptâ€™s World Cup qualifying fortunes rely, itâ€™s this one. And as the leading scorer of World Cup qualifying in Africa, who can blame them?
I like Egyptâ€™s chances of netting a crucial away goal with the attacking trio of he, Abou-Treika and Soliman with Abd-Rabo and Ghaly behind them playing clean-up and creating second-chance opportunities. Mohamed Salah (Mohamed Al Hendy) - Who else? Another no-brainer, though his position could change if Gedo is not fit in time.
Mohamed Salah (Ahmad Yousef) â€“ I think stats speak for itself here: 17 goals from 24 gamesâ€¦ Shikabala (Omar Niyazi) - Shikabala is a threat to almost any team he faces, with the ability to generate a spark of creativity anytime, something which may prove vital in the tie.
On the opposite flank, Walid Soliman would start in my XI. Possessing similar qualities as Shikabala in terms of skill, the Soliman and Shikabala partnership could stretch the weakened Ghana squad. (The entire team agrees Salah should start, but Moustafa, Youssef and Omar argue he could potentially start as a forward.)
KingFut consensus: Mohamed Salah
Walid Soliman (Youssef El Hadidy) - Bradley possess a handful of very talented players to choose from in this position, I think that Walid Soliman or Shikabala (after excluding Mohamed Ibrahim from the final squad) would be the best options here because of the pace and energy they bring to the field.
However I think that Walid Soliman would be the better option in the away game because of his defensive abilities, moreover he could move closer to the two defensive midfielders to control the ball and help lower the tempo of the game when needed â€“ the same way Sir Alex Ferguson used Nani in the Champions League match against Real Madrid one season ago.
Walid Soliman (Hosam El-Aker) - This choice was difficult to make, as I considered adding another holding midfielder, a different forward/attacking midfielder hybrid like Ahmed Eid, or an out-and-out striker like Gedo or Amr Zaki.
While I like Eidâ€™s experience with the national team and think Bob Bradley will ultimately go with him, I was too tempted to slot Soliman in here solely because of his upside and the moment or two of brilliance he can pull out of no where.
Iâ€™d take what he did for Ahly in their away draw with Cameroonâ€™s Coton Sport, an assist for the teamâ€™s lone goal before giving way to Ahmed Shedid in a defensive substitution.
Ahmed Eid (Mohamed Al Hendy) - Eid has slowly developed into the kind of player that Bradley can depend on, unlike Temsah, who would strongly drift in and out of games when picked. Bradley has played him as a CF, AM and LMâ€¦ with Gedo and Abou-Treika in the mix, I think LM will be his position.
Shikabala (Adam Moustafa) â€“ Heâ€™s easily still one of Egyptâ€™s most talented players. Against Guinea, I felt he was the best player on the pitch until he was substituted. Recent display against Uganda also showed it was no fluke, as he capped off a superb performance with an insane back-heel assist for Hazem Emam.
Walid Soliman (Moustafa El Chiati) â€“ Although Shikabalaâ€™s strength and talent may be very useful, with his lack of discipline and below par displays on international level, Al Ahlyâ€™s on form player Walid Soliman is my preferred option there. KingFut consensus: Walid Soliman
Mohamed Abou-Treika (Hosam El-Aker) - Shocker, I know. Along with FC Baselâ€™s Mohamed Salah, this living legend has carried Egyptâ€™s attack on his back through the qualifiers and thereâ€™s no reason to believe Bradley will tamper with this formula now. Having Ashour, Abd-Rabo, and Ghaly behind him in midfield should also free him to concentrate on linking up with his attack partners.
Mohamed Abou-Treika (Mohamed Al Hendy) - The man. The legend. Egyptians will be hoping the great man, the â€œSmiling Assassin,â€ has at least two more heroic games in him to guide Egypt back to the World Cup after a long absence. (The entire team agrees, although Moustafa argues he could play on the right with Salah in the middle if Egypt donâ€™t field a striker)
KingFut consensus: Mohamed Abou-Treika
That leaves us with only one position to fill the Number 9, the striker. Unlike the attacking midfielder position, Bradley only has a limited number of options in this position, as Mohamed Nagy â€˜Gedoâ€™ and Amr Zaki are really the only players Bradley has chosen who are able to fill the role. Striker:
Gedo (Mohamed Al Hendy) - If heâ€™s fit, he plays. If heâ€™s not, Bradley will have to scramble to rearrange his lineup. Having played in the league cup for Hull City on September 24th, I think itâ€™s a fair bet to say heâ€™ll be involved in the match vs. Ghana. Itâ€™s not like Bradley has anyone close to being as good as him, unless heâ€™s ready to take a huge risk on a still recovering Amr Zaki.
Gedo (Youssef El Hadidy) - For me Gedo would be a better option even though he didnâ€™t play any official game with the national team for months but his pace and tactical awareness would be very important in Kumasi. However, there is still the option of playing with Mohamed Salah as a striker, giving Shikabala the chance to be in the starting lineup.
Amr Zaki (Adam Moustafa) â€“ Ideally I would love to have a fully fit Gedo leading the line, but going with the fact that the only 90 minutes he has played since his injury was for the Hull City Reserves â€“ where he had a quiet match â€“ I think itâ€™s best to start him on the bench.
Zaki or Eid should start, and Gedo should be brought on late to hopefully make history repeat itself. Iâ€™m not Zakiâ€™s biggest fan, but he does usually produce in the big games, and he seems to be getting back into form with three goals already this season, including one in Egyptâ€™s 4-2 win against Guinea.
Amr Zaki (Omar Niyazi) - Iâ€™d pick Zaki as the hitman. Playing on the last man, Zaki has the ability to drag defenders out of position, due to his movements and size. As the other forward, Iâ€™d start Salah, another one of Egypts best players in the qualifying campaign.
With Zaki being able to drag opponents out of position, Salah would be given the freedom to roam around, switching from flank to flank and keeping the inexperienced Ghanaian defenders on their toes.
None, Soliman in an advanced role (Mohamed Seif) â€“ The tricky part was choosing between a striker in Amr Zaki (getting back to form since Gedo is still not purely match fit) or putting in the versatile Walid Soliman.
I went with Soliman since we need the pace of both Salah and Soliman to break down Ghanaâ€™s â€˜weakâ€™ defense line, playing on the counter. None, â€œfalse 9? (Hosam El-Aker) â€“ The personnel and formation Iâ€™d like to see going forward take on the feel of a â€œfalse 9,â€ with three deftly creative attackers in Abou-Treika, Salah and Soliman that have both a nose for goal and the ability to effectively retreat to midfield, but no conventional striker. Iâ€™d like to see Bradley instruct Salah, if not all three attackers, to occasionally switch sides to keep the Ghana defense guessing.
(Ahmad Yousef also went with Zaki, while Moustafa prefers Gedo if Bradley does field a striker.) KingFut consensus: Mohamed Nagy â€˜Gedoâ€™ (if fully fit), Amr Zaki otherwise
4-3-3 (Hosam El-Aker) - The theme of this lineup, as I see it, is balance and versatility. The goal is to accentuate Egyptâ€™s strengths and masque its weaknesses in order to secure what would be a vital away result.
Two central midfielders with both attacking and defensive tendencies accompany a more traditional holding midfielder. This setupâ€™s aim is to neutralize a potent Black Stars midfield as well as aid Egyptâ€™s shaky back-line.
Offensively, as mentioned, the formation and roles Iâ€™m envisioning will be rather â€œfalse 9? like, i.e. devoid of a traditional striker. At times, my entire attacking trio of Salah, Abou-Treika and Soliman will be in forward positions and at other times, all three will be midfielders.
To reiterate what I mentioned earlier, Iâ€™d love to see all three of them switch positions at different points in the game, mainly to keep the Ghanaian defense off balance and prevent it from getting into any rhythm trying to figure out and stop Salah. 4-3-3 (Moustafa El Chiati) - Since Egypt nowadays are lacking so much in the striker position whereby we donâ€™t have a match-fit on-form real number 9.
I would go with the Walid Soliman, Abou-Treika and Mohamed Salah upfront, with the latter in the center. If Bradley decides to go with a striker, I think Gedo is the only player who can fill this place, while having Salah and Treika behind him but Iâ€™d rather use him off the bench as Hassan Shehata used to do.
4-2-3-1 (Adam Moustafa) - We started with three defensive midfielders (Amr El-Sulaya, Ibrahim Salah and Mohamed El-Nenny) in the 3-0 friendly loss against Ghana last January, and it looked too inviting and lacked creativity.
Although the formation we used that day was a 4-3-1-2, which is probably why we lacked in the creative department, Iâ€™d much rather stick with the formation that has seen us flourish in World Cup qualifying under Bradley thus far: 4-2-3-1. 4-2-3-1 (Mohamed Seif) â€“ When picking out a team I went with the safe, tried and tested option.
(Mohamed Al Hendy and Ahmad Yousef also went with a 4-2-3-1 formation, while Youssef El Hadidy prefers the three-man midfield) What are your thoughts on KingFutâ€™s final XIs?