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WATCH: What Egypt’s shot at the Final looks like
Mohamed Salah’s moment has arrived, it appears, and that could mean something special in the coming World Cup for an Egyptian side that’s got a lot more going for it than just the superstar attacker from Liverpool.
Unfortunately, the moment comes with a serious question mark regarding Salah’s shoulder, which he recently injured and could keep him out at least the first two games of group play.
The 25-year-old, left-footed winger is the most celebrated talent, at least at the moment, heading to Russia for the monthlong carnival after scoring more goals in Europe than everyone except Lionel Messi and, just as important, doing so with such flair and at so blinding a pace.
Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard declared this year that “we are witnessing the start of greatness” and that Salah was “without doubt the best player on the planet right now.” He’s not alone in that thinking.
He led Liverpool to the UEFA Champions League final, where he failed to add to his season haul of 44 goals and suffered the injury in a 3-1 loss to Real Madrid. He set several English Premier League records for goals (he netted 32 in 36 league games), was the first player in EPL annals to win the player-of-the-month award three times (the Players’ Association gave him four nods), and he swept the league’s major MVP honors.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who seemed to have wrested the best-on-earth title from Lionel Messi before Salah came along, is imploring Real Madrid to pay the $235 million price tag — a figure claimed by a Spanish publication with a history of elevated money claims — that Liverpool supposedly has placed on its biggest star. If the Meringues can beat Manchester City or Chelsea to the punch, that is. Everyone wants Salah.
He’d have finished second in Egypt’s presidential election earlier this year if the more than 1 million write-in votes he was claimed to have received had been counted. He’s now, he’s the future. He’s even history: His boots — seriously — sit in the British Museum, among the treasures of Egypt’s ancient pharaohs. Seriously.
If Salah, who goes by “Mo,” isn’t yet the greatest player produced in North Africa, give him a few years. He’s certainly among the marquee names in Russia, even if the Egyptians aren’t. This is just their third trip to the World Cup and first since 1990, and were Salah not in the equation, they’d face minute expectations. That’s short-sighted if also true: The Pharaohs have talent all over the field, using a bracing counterattack bolstered by a tight defensive structure to rip apart opposing defenses. Winger Mahmoud Hassan, who goes by “Trezeguet” in honor of the former French standout, and Salah’s old Basel teammate Mohamed El Neny also play vital roles.
Uruguay is the team to beat, but host Russia is susceptible, and the June 19 clash in St. Petersburg could determine whether Egypt gets past the first phase for the first time.
“We want to do our best at the World Cup,” Salah told FourFourTwo this spring. “I don’t want to define what represents a good tournament, but we want to enjoy ourselves, and we’ll see what happens.”
As Salah goes, so likely will Egypt. He’s been a known quantity at home since debuting at 17 for El Mokowkon — “Arab Contractors” — and made his first national team appearance at 19. When the Port Said Massacre halted the Egyptian pro league — a suspension that would last two years — Swiss club Basel invited Egypt’s U-20 team for a friendly, and Salah scored twice off the bench. Basel offered a trial, and then a contract.
Chelsea came calling 18 months later, but Salah didn’t get much chance with the EPL club, instead using loan stints in Italy (plus another year under contract to Roma) to mature physically and grow his game. He quickly evolved into a dynamic game-changer and consistent goalscorer.
Liverpool paid nearly $50 million for him last summer. A bargain, it turned out. He, Senegal’s Sadio Mané and Brazil’s Roberto Firmino — all looking for World Cup success — provided the Reds with one of the most exciting and potent attacks in Europe.
What makes Salah special is his combination of quickness and speed, of extraordinary vision and skill, of deceptive and intelligent (and most economical) movement, and of complete confidence that what he’s planning to do is going to work. He’s neither fazed by his celebrity and success nor surprised it has arrived. FourFourTwo asked him if he expected to score as many goals as he has this season.
“I don’t want to sound arrogant, but yeah,” he replied. “Come on, I know I’m good! … I’ve always been the sort of guy who takes a chance, to put myself under pressure.”He answered that pressure with aplomb in England. How will he handle in Russia? And is his shoulder going to hinder him? The answers will define Egypt’s potential.