Apr 21, 2018; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Los Angeles FC defender Omar Gaber (4) plays the ball against the Montreal Impact during the second half at Stade Saputo. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
MOSCOW — History was written for Egypt when Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah stepped up and converted a penalty in the 95th minute of the World Cup qualifier against Congo. Les Pharaohs are record champions on the African continent, having won the African Cup of Nations on seven different occasions.
World Cup qualification, however, has eluded the North African country for much of its history. Only twice, in 1934 and 1990, did Egypt manage to qualify for the world’s biggest stage despite its fantastic record on its home continent.
Los Angeles FC’s Omar Gaber witnessed that historic moment up close, from Egypt’s bench. The right back often acts as a backup to the more experienced Ahmed Fathi with the Egyptian national team. Gaber will still be an important member of a squad that will take on host Russia, Uruguay and Saudi Arabia in Group A of the FIFA World Cup.
Egypt begins the tournament Friday against Uruguay. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 a.m. EST. Fox Sports 1 and Telemundo will broadcast the match.
“Actually, we have good players. We trust each other. We are like one family. We are fighting for each other,” Gaber told Pro Soccer USA when asked about Mohamed Salah’s importance to the squad.
His message was clear: Only as a team can Egypt be successful in Russia.
“I think we have a very good team; this is the first time we qualified in 38 years,” he said. “We have played at the final of the African Cup of Nations many times. We have good players in good clubs. We will do well.”
Despite Gaber’s confidence in the team as a whole, much will indeed depend on superstar Mohamed Salah given Egypt’s lack of experience at the world’s biggest tournament. The Liverpool winger, however, suffered a serious shoulder injury in the Champions League final against Real Madrid at the end of May and will likely miss the first match against Uruguay.
That match, however, will not be seen as the key match for Egypt in Group A. Uruguay is expected by many to walk this group, so Egypt will have to get its points in the group stage matches against Saudi Arabia and Russia.
The second group stage match against Russia at the Saint Petersburg Stadium will be like a mini final for who will finish second in the group behind Uruguay. The newly-erected stadium on Krestovsky Island can be a cauldron when the Russian Sbornaya play there.
Keeping cool in that atmosphere will be key when it comes to Egypt’s chances in that match. It might also be a match in which Gaber could shine for Egypt given his past experiences of having played in Russia.
“I played there once with my former club [FC Basel of Switzerland] against CSKA Moscow. It was a great atmosphere there and people like football there so much. We are very excited to go there,” Gaber said with a smile on his face.
He’s likely very much aware of his chances in that particular game. He’s experienced the hostile atmosphere of the former Red Army team’s home ground.
While CSKA Arena is a relatively small ground, Saint Petersburg Stadium will be a much different beast altogether. With 68,000 feverish Sbornaya supporters cheering for their country to make the next step in the group.
But Gaber almost seemed to relish that chance to take on the host country.
“We will do special things there”, Gaber said with a laugh.
And who knows? With a healthy Salah, Egypt could shock the host nation — fulfilling Gaber’s promise in the process.