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Mohamed Salah set to become first global Arab superstar

LONDON: When Saeed Al-Owairan slalomed through the Belgian defense at the 1994 World Cup to score one of the greatest goals in the tournament’s history, he did more than send Saudi Arabia to the knockout stage in the country’s first appearance.
He made headlines around the world. Here was a player representing an Arabian country seemingly destined for global superstardom. It never happened. Al-Owairan had a decent career but his trip to the United States was by far the highlight.
Rabah Madjer must be the biggest Arabian name in football history. The striker helped Algeria defeat West Germany at the 1982 World Cup and then Porto defeat Bayern Munich in the 1987 European Cup final. This century however, no Arabian player has really made the step from regional hero to global superstar.
Mohamed Salah, however, looks set to be the first. The Egyptian has been the sensation of the Premier League this season since signing for Liverpool in the summer.
“I do not go to bed at night, thinking: ‘Wow, how good is Salah?’” Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp said on Sunday. The German is one of the few, surely.
Sarah put in another fabulous performance — to join the many he has already served up — as the Reds tore Bournemouth apart on Sunday, winning 4-0. It took him to 20 goals in all competitions for his new club, an amazing statistic considering that that it is not yet Christmas and there were questions as to whether he would start regularly for Liverpool when he was signed from Roma in the summer.
The 25 year-old is the talk of the town, the toast of English football and the top scorer in the Premier League with 14 goals. Six more have also come in the Champions League. It is not just the quantity that has been impressive but the quality is there too.
Whatever happens, his first season in England has been a huge success with the only downside being that Liverpool are not in the title race, but then given the form of Manchester City, nobody else is either.
It puts attention on whether the team can go all the way in the Champions League, a tough but not unrealistic goal given Liverpool’s ability to be devastating when the mood takes them.
That would merely confirm Salah’s reputation as the leading Arabian star of the moment and the World Cup can take him even higher. A great goal can give you a place in history as happened to Al-Owairan but a great tournament coupled with a fantastic season at one of the biggest clubs in the world is something else.
Egypt are unlikely to win the trophy but if Salah can lead the Pharaohs to the knockout stage then that will be another fantastic achievement. There is going to be plenty of pressure on his shoulders but he can handle it — his 95th minute penalty against the Congo in October which took his country to the World Cup for the first time since 1990 demonstrated nerves of steel to go with his quicksilver feet.
The draw has been kind to Egypt. Finishing second in a group containing Russia, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay is far from impossible especially when you have one of the most in-form strikers in the world.
The opening game against the South Americans will be crucial. Uruguay are a World Cup powerhouse but recent performances have been mixed. It will be fascinating to see how the current Liverpool hero lines up against Luis Suarez, who arrived from the continent in 2011 to become a sensation at Anfield.
A good result there really sets up the North Africans for a fine tournament with hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia both beatable. Egyptian fans are entitled to be excited about next summer just as much as they will be praying that their talisman stays fit.
Since the days of Madjer, it is hard to argue that there has been an Arabian player who made consistent impact on the global stage. The next few months and Salah could change all that and become the first from the region this century to join the ranks of world stars.