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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

Mohamed Salah's World Cup: A story of hope, goals and tears  

It's been a roller coaster few months for the Egyptian star

Forty-four goals for Liverpool, a Uefa Champions League final and a place in the World Cup finals with Egypt - their first in 28 years. It's been a sensational year for Mohamed Salah, yet one that has been tarnished by unfortunate events which sadly removed some of the gloss.

Here is a look back through the key moments of the past few months, as he became a symbol of hope in his homeland, before his World Cup ambitions were almost taken away from him, and then the mix of joy and despair in Russia as Egypt were knocked out in the group stage despite his best efforts.

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October 8, 2017: Heroics clinch World Cup place

Salah had already been scoring regularly for Liverpool in the English Premier League when Egypt's crucial World Cup qualifier against Congo came around on October 8, 2017.

He put Egypt ahead during the second half in Alexandria only for Arnold Bouka Moutou to equalise two minutes from the end of regular time. Egypt then won a penalty in stoppage time, and Salah was on the spot to give them a 2-1 victory and a place in the finals. The result brought scenes of jubilation across the capital Cairo with fireworks and a parade of red, white and black flags in the streets after a 28-year gap since they last qualified.

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March, 2018: Exploring Salah's roots

As Salah continued to make headlines in England with his goalscoring exploits, there was growing interest in his background story, so The National visited the Nile Delta farming town of Nagrig where it all began.

Our correspondent, Jahd Khalil, revealed that after a freelance football scout discovered Salah, he brought him to the Arab Contractors’ development league in the nearby city of Tanta. Salah started training with the club’s main team in Cairo. Every day, at 7 am, he would walk a kilometre, ride a bike to Basyoun, the next town, transfer to the regional city Tanta, transfer again to Cairo, and then take a final bus to the club. The four-hour commute would then be repeated, getting home around midnight.

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May - Premier League Golden Boot winner

He didn't just finish as top scorer in England, Salah also broke a host of goalscoring records with his sharp-shooting, including most goals in a 38-game Premier League season and most by an African. This led many pundits and players to compare him with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, or another Argentine, as Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp commented after Salah scored four against Watford: "The last player I know who had the same influence on a team performance was Diego Maradona."

Teammate Dejan Lovren said ahead of the Champions League final against Real Madrid: “When you look at Messi, Ronaldo, Mo Salah, he deserves to be in the top three.”

Salah may have been on hot form throughout the campaign and won Footballer of the Year, but Liverpool finished in fourth place in the Premier League, behind Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and title winners Manchester City.

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May 24 - Taking achievements in his stride

The National spoke to Salah ahead of the Champions League final, and he dismissed the suggestion that it was going to be Ronaldo vs Salah.

“Of course I know a lot about him," he said. "He is a top-level player, as he said, he plays with his right foot, I play with my left. We are both focused on a good game in the final and to win it for our clubs. All I can do is play well.”

He also discussed his aim to "make the Egyptian people happy" at the World Cup.

You can read Damien McElroy's full story here.

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May 26: Champions League final disaster

It proved to be Ronaldo vs Salah for a mere 30 minutes, as the Egyptian's big night ended in tears.

An innocuous tangle of arms with Sergio Ramos left him crumpled on the ground having landed awkwardly on his left shoulder. He received treatment from the physio and hope was restored, but four minutes later it was clear he was unable to continue and he left the pitch with a pat on the head from Ronaldo and an embrace from Ramos, who would later bear the brunt of Egypt fans' fear and frustration as they felt his was a deliberate ploy to injure Salah and left him a big doubt for the World Cup.

Salah was unable to hold back his emotions in what became a double blow - Liverpool went on to lose 3-1 and his place in Russia was in jeopardy.

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May 27: I'm a fighter and will recover

The Egyptian Football Association was quick to voice its optimism that they would have their star player on board in Russia after he was diagnosed with sprained shoulder ligaments.

Egypt's Youth and Sports Minister Khaled Abd El-aziz said on his Facebook page: "It is expected Salah will need 2 weeks for treatment. He will stay in Liverpool and will have there the rehab period then will join the Egyptian team camp in Italy."

Liverpool manager Klopp was less optimistic in the aftermath of the match, describing the injury as "really, really serious ... it doesn't look good, that's it."

Salah then tweeted to say he was "confident" he would be fit in time for the opening match on June 14.

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May 30: Injury 'will take four weeks to heal'

Two weeks was more like four weeks in the eyes of Liverpool's physio Ruben Pons. He told Spanish sports newspaper Marca: "In principle it will be between three and four weeks but we will try to reduce those dates, that's the big goal."

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June 4: Salah included in Egypt squad

As expected, Salah was named in Egypt's final World Cup squad, despite the uncertainty surrounding his fitness. He was set to miss Egypt's friendly with Belgium in Brussels as he worked on his recovery.

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June 6: Ramos says he's not to blame for Salah injury

Following the online abuse he received from angry Egyptian fans, Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos denied the suggestion that he deliberately injured Salah.

“Bloody hell, they’ve given this a lot of attention - the Salah thing,” he told Spanish newspaper AS. “I see the play well, he grabs my arm first and I fell to the other side. The injury happened to the other arm and they said that I gave him a judo hold.”

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June 6: Good news from the doctor

Egypt manager Hector Cuper delivered an update on Salah's progress, and was again optimistic that he would play a part in Russia.

"Salah is in a stage of recovery not just for treatment on his shoulder," he said. "We need to improve his demeanour and his fitness level because the injury has prevented him from training as a normal player.

"But we have very good news from our doctor, we hope he will be with us before Uruguay. We are optimists and we are waiting for him."

Salah meanwhile gave more insight into the injury incident, telling Bleacher Report: “It’s a lot of emotions, that moment. I’m a human being, so I feel pain, and I was thinking about my head, was thinking about the Champions League final - and after that, immediately I think about the World Cup. I will do my best to play from the beginning.”

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June 7: He doesn't look injured

What's Salah doing strolling through Baghdad? Ok, that isn't really him. The rise of Salah gave 20-year-old Hussein Ali his own moment in the limelight - as the Egyptian's doppelganger.

Take a look for yourself.

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June 10: Back at training

It was the sight millions of Egyptians were desperate to see - Salah appeared at Egypt's final pre-World Cup training session.

He didn't actually take part in the football, instead walking around the pitch and chatting to teammates and supporters, but it was enough to provide large dose of hope.

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June 11: Fit enough for sneakers and suit

Egypt fans were finally given something other than Salah's shoulder to talk about - what he was wearing as the squad stepped off the plane at Grozny International Airport in Russia.

It was a stylish arrival which sent Twitter into meltdown, and was worthy of comment from our fashion editor.

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June 13: Back in training

The talisman was pictured smiling and taking an active part in training just a couple of days before Egypt's first Group A match against Uruguay.

There was still no guarantee that he would play a part once the tournament was under way, however.

Team director Ihab Lahita was cagey: “There’s a good degree of progress but no definitive decision on whether he takes part, as we are following his case day by day."

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June 14: Salah to make the final call

Prior to Russia beating Saudi Arabia 5-0 in the tournament's opening match, news came through that doctors had cleared Salah to face Uruguay the following day, and that the final decision would be made by Salah himself.

“If he does decide to play he will have full guarantee (about his condition) and I am sure that he will be fine," said manager Hector Cuper.

“If we see at the last minute that there is an issue then we will see if it can be resolved, but certainly he does not feel afraid.

“We still have to see how training goes today, but I can almost assure you 100 per cent that he’ll play, we are all very optimistic that he will be on the pitch.”

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June 15: No Salah, no points for Egypt

It was supposed to be a day of celebration for Salah and all Egyptians, but the party fell flat as Uruguay won 1-0 with a late goal, and birthday boy Salah spent the entire 90 minutes as a spectator on the bench.

Egypt were weak in attack without him.

Cuper said afterwards that the plan was to avoid any risks.

"Mo Salah is an extremely important player for us, nobody can deny that, but you need to have a good team, and we have a good team," he said.

"Perhaps if Mo had been on the pitch today the outcome would have been different but we can't know that. Certainly he has contributed a great amount to the team and will contribute in future matches. We wanted to avoid any risks in this match, but I think he will be fine for the next game."

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June 17: A slice of birthday cheer

There was little reason for cheer on Salah's 26th birthday, but he was smiling again a couple of days later when a group of fans from Chechnya brought him a 100kg cake decorated with a golden boot.

His teammates sang him "Happy Birthday" in both English and Arabic.

Meanwhile, Salah was declared 100 per cent fit by doctors for his side's next game against Russia and participated in training. However, he was seen needing help from teammates to lift a top over his head, suggesting that while his legs may have been in good shape, his injured shoulder was still a problem.

Salah's fitness was all anyone wanted to talk about - it wasn't whether Egypt would actually make it anywhere in the tournament. The following day Hector Cuper confirmed his star player "is fit", then said he "hopes he will be fully fit to play, I'm sure he will be able to play." It was almost as if the Egypt camp were playing a guessing game with the public - will he? Won't he?

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June 19: World Cup debut, and a goal

It was a real mixed bag of emotions for Egyptian fans. First came the relief that Salah was named in the starting XI. Finally they were able to see their hero in action on the grandest of stages, and with that came the boost to their chances of getting out of the group stage. But then came the reality, that Salah could not do it all alone, especially this version of Salah whose fitness was questionable. Russia took a 3-0 lead before he responded with a late consolation penalty. He hung his head at the final whistle with Egypt all but out of the World Cup.

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June 25: Salah downcast ahead of Saudi encounter

The bandwagon surrounding Egypt's star player had seemingly derailed now that his team were on the verge of heading home. There was an acceptance that he couldn't produce a miracle, that his goalscoring exploits for Liverpool couldn't be easily transferred to the national team.

The big grin seen so frequently during the previous eight months had been replaced by a more sullen look.

Reports emerged of his supposed unhappiness with the Egyptian Football Association (EFA), allegedly because he was photographed with Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic. Kadyrov has come under criticism for human rights problems while presiding over the Russian province.

The EFA has denied any disagreement between the board and the player. It also rubbished talk of a rift in the camp.

But as the pictures tell, all did not look well.

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June 25: From bad to worse

Salah was again on the scoresheet with a typical goal after running on to a long ball over the defence and finishing with a lob over the keeper, but again found himself on the losing side, as Egypt went down 2-1 to Saudi Arabia and headed home with zero points from their three group matches.

CNN reported that Salah was considering retiring from his national team, something the Egypt FA denied.

He was asked after the defeat whether he would clarify his situation via social media and replied: “No tweets, because no problem.”

He vowed to be back in 2022 however: “I just want to say that Egypt reached the World Cup after 28 years, some players here do not have the required experience. Thanks to all of them and we will be back again in 2022.”

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In this Thursday, June 28, 2018 photo, dozens of fans gather outside Egypt's beloved striker Mohamed Salah's home in Madinaty compound, just outside Cairo, Egypt, after his arrival with Egypt's national team from Russia following a disappointing World Cup showing. The state-run Al Ahram newspaper reported the number of fans kept increasing, reaching the hundreds, and police had to intervene to disperse the crowds. (Yehya via AP)
Dozens of fans gather outside Egypt's beloved striker Mohamed Salah's home in Madinaty compound, just outside Cairo after his arrival back from Russia. Yehya via AP

July 1: Justice for Ramos?

Amid the dejection for Egyptians after a rather sorry World Cup showing, some at least had a little reason for cheer when Spain met Russia in the round of 16 knockout stage. Russia triumphed on penalties, leaving Spain's Sergio Ramos in floods of tears, and social media was quick to show the lack of sympathy for the Spaniard, just over a month on from the incident in the Champions League final.

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July 2: New Liverpool contract, cryptic tweet

And so it was back to club football for Salah, and the confirmation that he had agreed a new five-year contract.

"I think this news can be seen for what it is; rewarding a person who performed and contributed greatly for the team and the club last season," manager Jurgen Klopp told Liverpool's website.

“It demonstrates two things very clearly also - his belief in Liverpool and our belief in him."

But this followed on from a rare cryptic tweet from Salah....

Was he referring to Ramos or the Egyptian set-up?

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Read more:

Will Mohamed Salah be a one-season wonder?

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