Egypt and Russia kick off the second round of group games on Tuesday, but one Egyptian is still hoping to make his World Cup debut. Mohamed Salah, world-beating goalscorer and hero of Liverpool and Egypt alike, was held out of his team’s opening contest against Uruguay and is still not confirmed to start on Tuesday.
Salah injured his shoulder in the Champions League final against Real Madrid, and his injury status was one of the biggest storylines heading into the tournament. It appeared that he was healthy enough to go against Uruguay, but was ultimately witheld from action.
Salah was “nearly 100 percent” for the opener, but Egypt mananger Hector Cuper did not want to risk losing his key player so early. Uruguay is the clear favorite in Group A, and Salah will have a greater impact in the following games against Russia and Saudi Arabia. Besides, the plan was working: Egypt was on pace for an impressive 0-0 draw against Uruguay, until substitute Jose Gimenez scored in extra time to give all the points to Uruguay.
After the game, Cuper noted that Salah might have changed the outcome.
“Perhaps if Mo had been on the pitch today the outcome would have been different, but we can’t know that,” he said after the match. “Certainly he has contributed a great amount to the team and will contribute in future matches.”
In the days leading up to Tuesday’s meeting with Russia, everyone has weighed in on Salah’s status except the man himself. His agent confirmed his fitness on Twitter earlier this week, and Cuper has promised that Salah is very likely to play.
“Salah is fit. In the previous match against Uruguay we thought he was fit also but we always draw up a last physical test…Tomorrow I am optimistic he’ll be able to play.”
Even Russia manager Stanislav Cherchesov has his own opinion on Salah.
“What can I say? I trust in my team,” he told reporters. “I believe in my players and I will give you a simple answer. We are ready to do this and we will do this.”
It’s tough talk from Russia, who notched an impressive 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in their opener. But Saudi Arabia isn’t nearly the same quality as Egypt and Salah, who broke the record for most goals scored in a Premier League (32) season this spring.
One man that clearly seemed peeved by questions surrounding Salah was Russia keeper and captain Igor Akinfeev. He insisted that despite Salah’s prowess, the team must focus on themselves and not get too focused on one individual.
“First of all I will tell you about my team,” Akinfeev told reporters. “I believe we should pay more attention to the Russian team. We have our own tasks, our own missions and so on.
“We know there will not be mannequins against us. These will be living beings. It is not only Mo Salah who will be playing against us. They have another 20-plus players. We will see what will happen.”
Russia and Egypt kick off at 2 p.m. Eastern.