|2018 Fifa World Cup on the BBC|
|Host: Russia Dates: 14 June – 15 July|
|Live: Coverage across BBC TV, BBC Radio and BBC Sport website with further coverage on Red Button, Connected TVs and mobile app.|
After a record-breaking season for Liverpool, Egypt forward Mohamed Salah was expected to shine at the World Cup.
But, after missing the Pharaohs’ first game through injury and appearing to lack match sharpness in the second, his hopes of making a major impact in Russia are over.
While Egypt have one game left – against also-eliminated Saudi Arabia on Monday – 26-year-old Salah will leave Russia considering what might have been.
Here are a few of the reasons he’ll be sorely missed in Russia.
World Cup deprived of one of its stars in full flight
When Salah tangled with Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos during the Champions League final in May and had to go off with an injured shoulder, Liverpool’s prospects of winning that competition all but ended.
In Egypt – a nation of 80 million – football fans held their breath, knowing only too well the forward’s importance to their team.
Salah had a hand in seven of the eight goals that took the Pharaohs through qualifying, scoring five and assisting two, as they reached the World Cup for the first time since 1990.
Without him in Russia their threat was dramatically diminished, as shown by a toothless 1-0 defeat by Uruguay and during a 3-1 loss to the hosts, in which a less-than-fit Salah did score a late penalty.
“One thing to wonder, with the chances he had against Russia, is how many would a fit Salah have put away?” said former Scotland winger Pat Nevin on BBC Radio 5 live. “That would hurt for Egypt to think about.”
Manager Hector Cuper said: “He could not prepare with us in the training sessions all the time, he had to train alone.
“If he was not injured, it is very difficult to know what would have happened but we know the quality he has.”
We’ll see less of his adoring fans
Egypt supporters love Salah.
Sure, football fans are usually admirers of their star player – but for Egyptians, Salah is a national hero.
There is a gigantic mural of the African player of the year in the capital Cairo, a school in his home town was named after him, he supports hospitals and charities in his homeland, and some Egyptians even voted for him to become their next president.
That devotion was abundantly clear in Russia – they adopted Liverpool’s chant about him, wore his name on their shirts and carried posters and banners bearing the image of the ‘Egyptian King’.
The World Cup will be that little less colourful without them.
Latest chapter in Ballon d’Or battle ends early
After a stunning season in which he won 34 individual awards, Salah has emerged as a candidate to break the monopoly Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have had over the Ballon d’Or – the award voted on by 173 journalists and given to the world’s best player.
Brazil forward Kaka – in 2007 – was the last player other than Messi or Ronaldo to win the prize.
But with Ronaldo – whose Real Madrid side beat Salah’s Liverpool in the Champions League final – having scored four goals in two games for Portugal, plus Messi hoping to lead Argentina to the latter stages, Salah’s odds on winning football’s most prestigious individual award are sure to lengthen.
|Salah v Ronaldo v Messi: 2017-18 league stats|
|Mohamed Salah||Lionel Messi||Cristiano Ronaldo|
|Minutes per goal||91||88||88|
|Shot conversion rate||22.2%||17.3%||14.6%|
Only one more chance to make Egyptian history
Salah is the first Liverpool player to score more than 10 goals in a single Champions League season.
He has won the most top-flight player of the month awards in a campaign, and he set a record (32) for most goals in a 38-game season.
Salah entered the World Cup hoping to help Egypt reach the knockout stage in football’s biggest competition for the first time and, while that will now not happen, there is still something to aim for – fitness permitting.
Egypt have never won a World Cup match, having only been involved in two previous tournaments, a statistic made particularly surprising by the fact they are the most successful team in the history of the Africa Cup of Nations (seven tournament wins, including three since 2006).
Salah can change that dismal World Cup record on Monday.
He has united fans at home and abroad
Salah is regarded as a rare thing in Egypt – a man behind whom everyone can unite.
But it is not only in his home country where he has widespread backing.
Football fans took to Britain’s oldest mosque, in Liverpool, to cheer Salah in the game against Russia.
The event – thought to be the first time a football match has been screened in a British mosque – was organised by the Abdullah Quilliam Society and Fans Supporting Foodbanks as a way of bringing communities together.
A chant by Liverpool fans about their record-breaking striker that includes the line “sitting in the mosque, that’s where I wanna be” was praised on Twitter by @MoSalah himself.