Egypt in rare unity over love for Salah

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah injures his shoulder in a challenge with Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos. (REUTERS)
Updated 28 May 2018

Egypt in rare unity over love for Salah

When Mohamed Salah went down clutching his left shoulder following a tangle with Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos less than 30 minutes into a dramatic Champions League final, the entire population of Egypt — 96 million people — had their hearts in their mouths.

Moments later, forced off by injury, the Liverpool star left the field in tears — and the Arab world cried with him.
Forget that Real Madrid won 3-1 and Gareth Bale scored the goal of a lifetime. Salah’s big night had lasted just 29 minutes and the fear was his World Cup might not even last that long. The initial diagnosis was poor. Salah’s participation in this summer’s tournament in Russia appeared to be in grave doubt.
“It’s a really serious injury,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp in the aftermath. “He is in hospital for an X-ray. It’s either the collarbone or the shoulder itself. It doesn’t look good.”
His left arm in a sling, Salah was seen after the game in the bowels of the stadium posing for a photograph with the celebrity chef Salt Bae. But the mild-mannered  superstar who has barely stopped smiling this season could barely manage a grin. His mind was elsewhere.
“Honestly, I think it’s a nightmare,” Egyptian football journalist Marwan Ahmed told the BBC. “There are no words to describe it. There was a minute of silence after we saw Salah go down. When he went down the second time, we knew it wasn’t good and that he would leave the pitch. No Egyptian wanted to see that happen. We’ve never had an Egyptian in the Champions League final. It’s sad — I can’t find the exact words to describe it. Some people were in tears.”
The Egyptian FA optimistically tweeted that Salah’s X-ray showed he had a “sprain in the shoulder ligaments” and that it was “optimistic” he would be fit for the Russia tournament, which starts on June 14.
Richard Collinge, a former head of medical at a Premier League club in the UK, believes Salah’s involvement in the World Cup will depend on whether he has sustained a fracture or a less severe injury. Collinge has watched the incident again and again.
“It’s not Ramos pulling the arm that causes the injury,” he said. “It’s the force of landing on the left shoulder, and possibly Ramos then landing on top of Salah, that is the problem. Potential structures injured could be the clavicle (collarbone) or shoulder joint itself (dislocation or temporary loss of joint congruence called a subluxation),” Collinge told Arab News.
“Looking at what he is pointing to and rubbing, the acromioclavicular (joint) could be the issue here. Depending on the amount of soft-tissue damage to the joint, surgery may be needed, but this decision could be made only after scanning the area,” he said
If there was no fracture, and damage to the joint and soft tissue was not too extensive, a pain management and strengthening program could ensure Salah still makes the World Cup.
“However, a fracture, dislocation or surgery will make playing highly unlikely,” Collinge said.
The news got better as the hours passed, the outlook more positive. The Egypt national team’s doctor, Mohamed Abou Al-Ela, “expressed his optimism that Salah would make it to the World Cup matches according to this diagnosis,” the Egypt Football Association said.
The Egyptian Sports Minister, Khaled Abd Elaziz, also sounded upbeat. “Mohamed Salah, god willing, will be on the national team’s final list for the World Cup, which is to be announced on June 4,” he said on Facebook.
Salah’s departure from the field in tears had echoes of the abiding image from the 1990 World Cup when Paul Gascoigne was inconsolable after picking up a yellow card that meant he would miss the final if England made it through their semi. Just as Gary Lineker consoled Gascoigne, Cristiano Ronaldo was on hand to put a comforting arm around the disconsolate Salah. At least Gascoigne made it to the semifinal. Salah will be lucky to make the opening group game against Uruguay on June 15.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. This Champions League final was to be the renaissance of Klopp’s Liverpool and the coronation of Salah’s swashbuckling season. He had grinned so broadly moments before kick-off. So had Klopp and strike partner Sadio Mane.
Salah shook Ronaldo’s hand and prayed. Immediately, Liverpool tried to accelerate away from the reigning European Champions. Within 25 seconds, Salah demonstrated his versatility. He turned provider for Mane, but Raphael Varane mopped up with a crucial intervention inside the Spanish box. Liverpool were endearingly excited about the final and Salah was no different.
The game had been billed as Salah versus Ronaldo, but that clash was now of secondary importance. Salah, an athlete at the top of his profession  — scaling new heights — had been denied the chance to shine and excel on Europe’s biggest stage. His breathtaking season ended in a nightmare. With Salah’s departure, the romance ebbed out of the final.
In Cairo, sadness and anger filled the cafes where Salah’s legion of fans gathered to watch the final. After injury forced him off the pitch, many began cheering for Real Madrid, saying they had been supporting Liverpool only for Salah.
“He is the son of our country, we are sad when anything happens to him,” Abdel-Aziz Abdel-Fattah, a 27-year-old engineer, told an AFP reporter.
“We were only supporting Liverpool for Salah,” said Mahmoud Saad, a 33-year-old director of a tourism company.
Such is the importance of Salah to Egypt’s World Cup hopes — he has scored 33 goals in 57 games — that the state of his left shoulder will dominate the nation’s news bulletins. Indeed, it says plenty about Salah’s global status that his injury has made worldwide headlines.
As well as the potential sporting ramifications for Egypt, there will be financial implications for blue-chip companies such as Vodafone and DHL, which are paying Salah handsomely to promote their products and brands. Ramy Abbas, Salah’s agent, and MS Commercial, Cayman, the company that owns Salah’s image rights, will also be counting the cost if he misses out on Russia 2018.
Egypt don’t have to name their 23-man squad until June 4, so they are likely to give Salah as much time as possible to recover.
The Kuwait coach, Radojko Avramovic, told Arab News earlier this week that Egypt are far from  a one-man team. “Salah is a great player, but Egypt didn’t qualify for the World Cup just because of him —  he is not superman. They have lots of good players.”
They do, but none who can change a game quite as dramatically or with such rare gifts.
Following David Beckham’s injury in 2002, a national newspaper in Britain called on its readers to place their hands on a picture of the England captain and pray for his speedy recovery.
Egyptians, you suspect, will be doing a similar thing up and down the land as they anxiously await medical bulletins on their national hero.

Saudi Arabia produce improved display but still exit World Cup

Updated 23 min 39 sec ago

Saudi Arabia produce improved display but still exit World Cup

  • Luis Suarez wins Group A clash with goal after 23 minutes
  • Green Falcons go toe-to-toe with South Americans, but looked a bit toothless in attack

LONDON: It came too late to save Saudi Arabia’s World Cup hopes, but this was much more like it from the Green Falcons.
The record books will show that Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side are now without a win in 12 World Cup games and bowed out of this tournament with one game to spare, but this was a restorative afternoon in Rostov, a day when the Green Falcons put some pride back in the shirt.
The team received criticism from senior figures in the Kingdom after rolling over against Russia and they knew they needed to front up against Uruguay. Some of their international futures may have depended on it. The players did just that, mixing it with the two-time winners and showing that they did, after all, belong at this exalted level.
The big frustration for Pizzi will be that Uruguay did not have to work hard for their winning goal, recalled keeper Mohammed Al-Owais handing it to Luis Suarez on a plate with a piece of goalkeeping he will not look back on with any fondness. Suarez could not believe his luck that he was gift-wrapped a goal with which to mark his 100th international appearance. It undid such a promising start from the men in white.
The Green Falcons’ response to falling behind was impressive, though, full of intent and no little skill as they went toe to toe with the South American giants. They actually ended the first half with 57 percent of the possession and registered more attempts on target than their more vaunted opponents. This is what the Saudi Arabians packed into the muggy Rostov Stadium had come to see, their team giving their all and representing more than the sum of their parts. This was why the Green Falcons had finished ahead of Australia in qualifying.

For Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi, he was left to rue a lack of fire-power up front against the Uruguyans.

Speaking to the media immediately after the game, Pizzi said: "We kept the ball well, we had the majority of the posession, but we just did not have the weapons needed up front to equalize.

"We played at a much better level than in the Russia game, and that is more our style of play, but we just did not have the right tools to break Uruguay down."

The problem of scoring goals at this lofty level remains — this was the ninth time in 11 finals games they had failed to score — but that is a long-standing issue that was never going to be solved overnight. Most importantly, Pizzi got the type of reaction he was looking for after a performance against the hosts he described as “shameful.” Pizzi shook things up by dropping Omar Hawsawi, Mohammad Al-Sahlawi, Abdullah Al-Mayoof and Yahya Al-Shehri, bringing in Al-Owais, Ali Hadi Al-Bulaihi, Hatan Bahbri and Fahad Al-Muwallad. The changes largely worked a treat, with Bahbri looking particularly lively cutting it from the right.
Saudi Arabia started brightly and on the front foot. They forced the first corner, won a free-kick on the edge of the Uruguay box and Al-Bulaihi showed more defensive resilience in blocking an early shot from Suarez than the Green Falcons did in the entire 90 minutes of the World Cup opener. You would not have known which team was ranked 14th and which was ranked 67th.
But the bright start was punctured just past the 20-minute mark. Al-Owais came to collect a corner but completely mis-judged the flight. He flapped at the ball with his left hand, got nowhere near it and that left Suarez with the simple task of slotting into an empty net with his left foot. It was the Barcelona man’s sixth goal in 10 World Cup games. He will not score an easier one.
It would have been easy for Saudi Arabia to fold like they did against Russia, but they showed they are made of sterner stuff than we first thought. Al-Muwallad shot over the bar from a tight angle, Bahbri forced a smart save from the Uruguay keeper and then the same player shot over at full stretch soon after. It was an encouraging response. Abdullah Otayf then left his mark soon after on Edison Cavani. Salem Al-Dawsari then clattered Matias Vecino. The Uruguayans knew they were in a game.
Saudi Arabia even recovered from the blow of losing key midfielder Taiseer Al-Jassam to injury before half-time, but Housain Al-Mogahwi came on and slotted in seamlessly. The most impressive thing about the performance was the control their midfield three enjoyed in the center of the field.
With their hopes of staying the tournament at stake, Pizzi might have thrown caution to the wind earlier than he did in the second half and throw on Al-Sahlawi, Al-Shehri or Muhannad Assiri. But he was just so worried about being opened up on the counterattack and risking another humiliation. With 15 minutes, he eventually opted for the height of Mohamed Kanno and the sharp-shooting of squad top-scorer Al-Sahlawi and asked his team to go more direct. They huffed and puffed but they just lacked the subtlety and muscle to breach a Uruguay defense marshalled by the wily Diego Godin. They will not be first to encounter that problem and certainly not the last.