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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 October 2018

Africa Cup of Nations offers Mohamed Salah chance to regain scoring touch

Egypt face eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), a team with a ranked 136th by Fifa, in Cairo on Friday

Mohamed Salah has scored only three goals this season for Liverpool
Mohamed Salah has scored only three goals this season for Liverpool

Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah will get the chance to put his Premier League struggles behind him and rediscover his goalscoring touch with Egypt in Africa Cup of Nations qualifying this week.

After a sensational 44-goal first season at Anfield, Salah has only managed three in the league this campaign, and just one in eight games since August.

The 26 year old's latest blank for club came in Sunday's stalemate against Manchester City that left Liverpool on the same number of points (20) as City but trailing the Premier League leaders on goal difference.

When Salah last played for his country, he scored twice and missed two penalties as the record seven-time African champions romped to a 6-0 win over Niger during September.

Egypt face eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), a team ranked 136th by Fifa, at the Al Salam Stadium in Cairo on Friday. The former Basel and Chelsea player will fancy his chances of adding to his tally of 37 goals for the Pharaohs against a team with a caretaker manager, no stars and a squad comprised of locals and a sprinkling of players with South African second-tier clubs.

Salah is the pride of Egypt having won the best goal and finished third in the best player category behind Luka Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo at the recent Fifa Aawards.

He is also among 30 contenders for the Ballon d'Or prize bestowed annually by France Football magazine.

But in truth he has not looked like the same player since being injured by a robust Sergio Ramos tackle in the Uefa Champions League final in May, with Liverpool losing the match in Kiev 3-1.

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A disappointing World Cup saw the former Roma player fail to make an impact - although he did notch two goals - as Egypt exited the tournament bottom of their group.

In August, Salah was involved in a bitter feud with the Egyptian Football Association, demanding the resignations of EFA officials if they did not offer him more protection from fans while on international duty as well as a dispute over image rights.

Salah's recent scarcity of goals for Liverpool, and being substituted in a match at Chelsea, has drawn sympathy from Egyptian pundits.

"Salah must not look back at last season, whether it was his goal scoring or his exceptional form," said Islam el-Shater in Al-Masry Al-Youm.

Another columnist in that newspaper, Mohammed el-Bourmy, wrote: "Salah is being compared to [Cristiano] Ronaldo and [Lionel] Messi and some possibly believed he could score 40 to 50 goals every season.

"He is not required to do that, but rather to have a good season with 20 goals to his name and enjoy himself."

Leading football commentator Hassan el-Mistekawi noted that "the Salah smile is missing since the start of the season because of the pressure he is under to score".

Egypt and eSwatini will meet twice during the Cup of Nations window with the return match next Tuesday in Manzini, where the southern African nation lost 2-0 to Tunisia last month.

There are 48 Cup of Nations fixtures spread over seven days, although doubts surround those between Ghana and Sierra Leone in Kumasi this Thursday and in Freetown next Monday.

Sierra Leone, banned by Fifa from international competitions over government interference in the running of the sport, are racing against the clock to be reinstated.