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FIFA World Cup qualifying playoff preview: Egypt vs. Senegal

Nearly two months after meeting in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations final, Egypt and Senegal will clash again with a ticket to the 2022 FIFA World Cup on the line this time in their qualifying playoff matchup. Senegal are flying high after sealing their first ever AFCON title via a penalty shootout while Egypt and Mohamed Salah attempt to upset the odds by finding a way past the newly crowned African champions. Take a look below to see how the two teams stack up and what circumstances have changed since their recent meeting:

Egypt

Manager: Carlos Queiroz

Key Players

Mohamed Salah

Who else starts off the list of key contributors for Egypt other than the Liverpool superstar? The 29-year-old forward continues to maintain his electric form in the English Premier League and will once again be counted on to spark an Egyptian attack that depends on him to create and finish goals. Salah will start out at his favored right wing position and Senegal will throw all their defensive resources at him to try and force his teammates to beat them. Senegal’s strategy worked in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations final as Egypt continued their struggles to find an alternative option to support their talisman.

Trézéguet

There will be one major difference between the lackluster Egyptian attack at the 2021 AFCON and how the Pharaohs look heading into this week’s playoff and that is a healthy and fit Trézéguet on the opposite wing from Salah. The 27-year-old whose nickname comes from his resemblance to famous French striker David Trézéguet is an elusive dribbler who provides his fair share of goals. Confined to a substitute role at the AFCON after coming back from a long-term injury, Trézéguet has scored four goals in five matches for Turkish club İstanbul Başakşehir since returning from Cameroon and is likely to get the starting nod over Omar Marmoush.

Mohamed Abdelmonem

On loan from parent club Al Ahly to Future FC in the Egyptian Premier League heading into the 2021 AFCON, the 23-year-old center back was thrown into a starting role in Cameroon due to injuries and responded magnificently to be an outstanding performer in Egypt’s unlikely run to the final. Recalled back to Ahly following the competition, Abdelmonem displayed his composure and more than earned his selection in the AFCON Best XI. Abdelmonem’s unexpected emergence will have Egyptian supporters confident in their team’s potential to restrict the Senegalese attack.

Expected formation and team profile

Queiroz should not change much if anything from the formation that led Egypt to the final at the 2021 AFCON. Abdelmonem and Mahmoud Hamdi “El Wensh” should remain the partnership in the center of defense with team leader Ahmed Hegazy still out injured. Emam Ashour, a natural center midfielder, started at right back in a move by Queiroz to add pace in dealing with the Senegalese attack and the Zamalek player did well enough to suggest he will retain his spot. Keep an eye out for Ashour’s club teammate, Ahmed El Fatouh, who is excellent when getting forward from his left back position.

A line of three in the midfield possesses technique as well as toughness. The Al Ahly duo of Amr El Solia and Hamdi Fathi should start alongside Arsenal player Mohamed Elneny. El Solia has excellent technique to pick out attackers with precise passing while Fathi offers a balanced presence. Elneny is another player whose intelligence, tackling and smart passing will be key to helping Egypt in their attempts to win the midfield battle.

The aforementioned Salah and Trézéguet will line up on the wings and look to cut inside and put pressure on defenders with their elite dribbling skills and knack for finding the net. Mostafa Mohamed struggled to find the net at the AFCON but showed excellent work rate and determination to keep his starting spot despite calls from some supporters for his benching.

Senegal

Manager: Aliou Cissé

Key Players

Sadio Mané

Once again matched up against Liverpool teammate Salah for a massive occasion, Mané delivered the winning penalty kick in the 2021 AFCON final to help his nation to their first ever continental triumph and cement the Player of the Tournament award. The 29-year-old captain and his devastating pace are essential to the Senegalese attack and whenever the Lions of Teranga struggle to find a way through defenses, it is always Mané who provides the difference-making moment. A product of the famed Génération Foot academy, Senegal’s talisman will need to keep his team focused against an Egyptian side that thrives when the match is tight.

Édouard Mendy

After getting injured in the 2019 AFCON before Senegal were eliminated in the final, the Chelsea goalkeeper helped his national team find redemption earlier this year by getting the job done to win the 2021 edition when the final came down to a penalty kick shootout. Coming off a 2020-21 season where he won nearly every award a goalkeeper could possibly earn, Mendy has continued his form and is probably the best goalkeeper in the world at the moment. Senegal’s impressive talent from front to back is anchored by the calm 30-year-old and now his next target is to make it to his first World Cup.

Kalidou Koulibaly

The 30-year-old Napoli central defender leads the defensive line as captain for Senegal and cuts an imposing figure with his combination of upper body strength and speed that allows him to shut down quick dribblers as well as physical forwards. Where Koulibaly excels is in his ball distribution from the back by showing the ambition to play the ball forward without conceding unnecessary giveaways. Always remaining calm, Koulibaly does not get quite the attention that teammates Mané and Mendy receive but his role is just as essential to Senegal’s success.

Expected formation and team profile

“If it is not broke, do not fix it” should be the motto of manager Aliou Cissé heading into the crucial qualifying playoff after his team finally broke through to conquer Africa’s showcase competition with their 2021 AFCON triumph. The back line picks itself with Bouna Sarr and Saliou Ciss providing enterprising runs down the flanks from their full back positions. Koulibaly and Abdou Diallo have formed an excellent partnership in the heart of defense and will be expected to lock down the Egyptian attack once again.

Idrissa Gana Gueye will keep his box-to-box role in the center of midfield along with Crystal Palace player Cheikhou Kouyaté, who was a bit inconsistent at times but should be counted on again. Namplays Mendy is a fierce ball winning presence and will lie deeper than Kouyaté and Gueye to focus on his duties as a destroyer.

Watford FC winger Ismaïla Sarr shook off an injury to return to the starting lineup for the AFCON final and his presence made an important difference to keep defenders from focusing only on shutting down Mané. Once again Sarr is coming off an injury heading into the playoff and if he is unable to start then Olympique Marseille player Bamba Dieng will fill in. Striker was an issue for Senegal throughout the AFCON but Famara Diédhiou will likely get the nod over Boulaye Dia due to more regular playing time for his club.

Prediction

The return of Trézéguet to match fitness will be a big boost to Egypt but it is difficult to see Senegal losing this tie. In a one-off match Egypt always has the potential to keep the match close but over two legs there is just too much quality in the Senegalese squad from front to back and the extra ninety minutes makes the Lions of Teranga a substantial favorite to punch their ticket to Qatar.

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