With the news that Ali Gabr is injured and ruled out of Egypt’s 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Uganda, the Pharaohs must now turn to their bench for a replacement.
The countdown is on, with both matches against the cranes rapidly approaching; on Aug. 31 in Kampala and Sept. 5 in Alexandria respectively.
Gabr has officially been ruled out of the first contest but is a doubt for the second one as well.
He was an instant-start along fellow defensive stalwart Ahmed Hegazi, who has impressed since joining England’s West Bromwich Albion from Cairo giants El-Ahly.
In Gabr’s stead, manager Héctor Cúper has called up Smouha centerback Mahmoud Ezzat.
However, the team has other, perhaps more likely options to start off the bench.
El-Ahly’s Saad Samir will be seen by most as the more likely fill-in for Gabr.
Starting along side Hegazi before his transfer to England, the two formed a formidable duo and chemistry that cannot be duplicated by just plugging and playing the next best centerback on the roster.
Samir is not the tower that Gabr is, but is certainly no shrimp at 185cm (6’1″).
The 28-year-old is a decent athlete and has a knack for getting good height on his headers.
Recently back from the latest in a string of injury layoffs, Rabia was once Héctor Cúper’s first choice in central defense – along with Hegazi – before injuries derailed those plans.
The 24-year-old has excellent leaping ability, and can even provide an extra aerial option in attack.
Standing 183cm (6’0″) tall, Rabia also brings solid pace to the backline, but can sometimes find himself out-of-position.
Given that he’s just now rounding back into form, it’s likely that Rabia will not be in the staring XI in Kampala, but perhaps now the first centerback off the bench.
The aforementioned Ezzat has been on many fans’ radars for some time after putting in consistently solid efforts with local side Smouha.
The 25-year-old can play in either centerback position and provides solid overall pace and athleticism.
He’s also been known to score the occasional goal for his club and provides another tall body along the backline at 189cm (6’3″).
Ezzat may be least likely to start in place of Gabr, but provides an insurance policy off the bench if something happens to the other reserve options.
In all, Egypt’s national team boasts five centerbacks that are 183cm (6’0″) or taller, including three that are at least 189cm (6’3″) in height.
While defending certainly is not dependent just on height, being good in the air is a staple of Cúper’s ultra-defensive approach, and helped Egypt record six consecutive cleansheets at one point between 2016 and 2017.
Samir’s experience playing alongside Hegazi is what will likely make the difference in deciding who steps-in for Gabr.
It doesn’t hurt that Samir also probably had his best season as a professional this year.
Though he’d love to have Gabr available, the Argentine tactician probably won’t lose too much sleep over the Zamalek defender’s absence as long as the other options remain healthy.