Egypt to play Portugal, Bulgaria in pre-WCup friendlies

CAIRO — Egypt's soccer federation said on Sunday that the country's national team will meet Portugal and Bulgaria in friendly games as part of preparations for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The federation said in a statement that Egypt will play Portugal on March 23 and Bulgaria four days later, with both matches to take place in Zurich, Switzerland.

Egypt, returning to the World Cup for the first time in 28 years, opens its World Cup campaign against Uruguay on June 15 before it takes on host Russia on the 19th of the same month. Its final Group A match is against Saudi Arabia on June 25.

Portugal, the reigning European champion, will give Egypt a flavor of the type of play that partially resembles group rival Uruguay, but Egypt's most prominent football critic says he is unconvinced that the Portuguese will give Egypt the ideal preparation to take on the South Americans.

The Portugal-Egypt friendly, however, is potentially beneficial to the Portuguese, who are drawn in Group B with Morocco, whose style of play resembles that of the Egyptians. The other teams in Group B are Spain and Iran.

"Portugal plays Latin football, but it does not accurately mirror the style of South Americans," said Hassan al Mestikawi of the independent Cairo daily, Al-Shorouk. "Bulgaria, on the other hand, is close to how the Russians play in terms of tactics."

"But what the Egyptians need the most is to play football superpowers like Germany or Brazil. The results could be painful for the Egyptians but playing them would shatter the wall of fear Egyptians have when playing big teams," he added.

Still, the Portugal friendly will likely pose a useful test for the Egyptian defense in the form of Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the world's most prolific scorers. But while the five-time Ballon d'Or winner is by far the biggest threat on the Portugal team, Egypt will have to contend with two strikers who can tear any defense apart in Uruguay's Luis Suarez of Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain's Edinson Cavani when the games start to count.

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