Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 20 September 2019

Mohamed Salah faces Egypt's great expectations at Africa Cup of Nations after Liverpool glory

The Egyptian will not have much time to savour Liverpool's success before he looks to inspire his country to a first continental title since 2010

Lifting the European Cup on Saturday night, surrounded by his jubilant Liverpool teammates, capped the first part of Mohamed Salah's hopes of a successful summer in 2019.

He became the first Egyptian to score in an Uefa Champions League final as his second-minute penalty set up Liverpool's 2-0 win over fellow Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid.

It firmly put behind him the sad scenes of 12 months earlier when he was forced out of the 2018 final against Real Madrid in Kiev with a shoulder injury after just 30 minutes.

Salah celebrated with his teammates on Saturday night and then again on Sunday at a bus parade around Liverpool surrounded by thousands of fans.

The 26-year-old needs to savour the moment as, unlike some of his colleagues, he has little rest ahead with another big challenge coming up.

In less than three weeks he will carry on his shoulders the expectations of millions of compatriots looking to him alone to restore Egypt's continental glory by winning the African Cup of Nations.

That task is all the more daunting because the tournament is being held in Egypt and they won the last of their record seven African titles nine years ago.

Salah is one of a number of superstar players at Liverpool, but in the Egypt team he is the one big name and all eyes are on him to make the difference.

This has not been a problem for him in the past and he seemed to relish the prospect of leading by example.

Indeed it was he who held his nerve to score the stoppage time spot-kick against Congo in Alexandria in October 2017, securing Egypt's first appearance at a World Cup finals since 1990.

Salah was too young to be a member of any of the squads that won three successive African titles between 2006 and 2010.

Egypt failed to make the following three tournaments, but did qualify in 2017 and Salah, playing for Roma at the time, helped them reach the final where they lost to Cameroon.

But the target this time will to be to win on home soil and make up for last summer's disappointing World Cup in Russia.

Salah's World Cup preparations were hurt by his Champions League final injury and he missed the first game against Uruguay.

Although he scored twice in the tournament in Russia, Egypt's campaign ended pointless, with unhappy Egyptian media later reporting a combination of poor squad management and disruptive lack of discipline among some players.

Egypt are in Group A at the 2019 African Cup of Nations with Uganda, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo. While none of these are rated among the continent's traditional giants, surprises cannot be ruled out.

But it is the later stages of the tournament, assuming that Egypt qualifies from its group, that could pose a serious threat to the Egyptians.

Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco - Egypt's longtime rivals from North Africa - are among the 24 nations competing along with powerhouses Senegal, Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria.

Egyptian TV presenter Karim Ramzy believes it will be hard to predict how the hosts will fare when they kick off the tournament on June 21 against Zimbabwe in Cairo.

"It's going to be extremely tough against the big name teams as well as the lesser ones, but playing at home is a huge advantage for Egypt," Ramzy said.

"Coach Javier Aguirre plays attacking football. It's a huge risk. The Egyptians will either have awesome results or they will fail miserably."

Aguirre and his camp will start preparations without Salah, who will rest following his exertions with Liverpool before he joins up with the national squad.

A provisional squad of 25 players has been named for the tournament and Egyptian fans are already debating who should start from within that number, and also whether the selection is right.

Egyptian newspaper columnist and TV commentator Hassan Al Mistikawi believes the debate will run for a while.

"Management is responsible for its selection and criticism of its choices includes technical reasons that may be acceptable," he recently wrote.

"But there is actually some question marks on how some stars shining in the local league - the benchmark for local players - have been ignored."

Updated: June 3, 2019 02:21 PM

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