Mohamed Salah backed to finish World Cup as winner of the Golden Boot

Egypt's forward Mohamed Salah is fancied to cap off a remarkable season by winning the Golden Boot. (AFP)
Updated 14 June 2018
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Mohamed Salah backed to finish World Cup as winner of the Golden Boot

  • Egyptian beats Ronaldo and Messi in top-scorer poll
  • Hopes are high that an Arab nation could go deep into the tournament

Doubts over the fitness of Mohamed Salah has not dissuaded fans from believing the Egyptian superstar will finish the World Cup as the top-scorer.
The Liverpool forward is back in training after injuring his shoulder in the Champions League final at the end of last month, but Egyptian officials are keen not to rush him back and are being coy over his return date. He has an outside chance of facing Uruguay on Friday but a more realistic target is the games against Russia and Saudi Arabia, two matches against the lowest ranked sides in the competition when Salah could fill his goalscoring boots.
He had a hand in all seven of Egypt's goals in qualifying, scoring five and creating two — and football followers are expecting him to add to his international tally of 33 in 57 games.
He tops the table of who fans think will be the highest goal scorer at the tournament, with one in six (17 percent) fans across the 11 countries surveyed in a YouGov Omnibus/SMG Insight believing he will win the Golden Boot. His figures are boosted by significant support from home: 52 percent of Egyptian football followers say he will take the prize won by James Rodriguez in 2014. Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo is in second place (15 percent) followed by Barcelona Lionel Messi in third (13 percent).
The Arab world is represented by four nations, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt — and there is huge optimism among football fans in the Middle East and North Africa that one of them could go all the way. One in five (21 percent) Moroccan fans with an opinion believe their side will win, despite sports data firm Gracenote giving them just a one per cent chance of lifting the World Cup. The Moroccans go into the tournament on the back of an 18-match unbeaten run. Likewise, 19 percent of Egyptians think their side will win and 14 percent of Saudi Arabians expect success (Gracenote put the odds for both teams lifting the trophy at 0%).
The most avid followers, according to the survey, can be found in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, where 41 percent and 40 percent respectively of those with an interest in football say they intend to watch “all or most” of the matches.


'We want to make Saudi Arabia proud': Pizzi promises better showing against Egypt

Updated 21 June 2018
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'We want to make Saudi Arabia proud': Pizzi promises better showing against Egypt

  • Saudi Arabia cannot progress from Group A even if they defeat Egypt in their final game on Monday
  • Wednesday’s overall performance was much improved, yet a lack of penetrative passing was obvious

ROSTOV-ON-DON: “Keeping possession of the ball seems to be the absolute and most important thing, but then when you sometimes find issues in getting the ball into your opponent’s half, you have to find other movements and ways of doing that,” said Oscar Tabarez after watching his lackluster Uruguay rely on a solitary Luis Suarez goal to eliminate Saudi Arabia from the World Cup. 
Tabarez was talking about his own team’s struggles, yet the assessment is considerably more applicable to the Green Falcons, who dominated possession and retained the ball with ease in midfield, yet for the second match running looked absolutely bereft of ideas in the final third. With Uruguay and Russia now on six points, Saudi Arabia cannot progress from Group A even if they defeat Egypt in their final game on Monday.
The Green Falcons coach Juan Antonio Pizzi confirmed he intends to stay at the helm of the side for the long-haul, yet is only too aware that the potential of this team is being hamstrung by its inability to score. He called it “our weakness”, adding that his side enjoyed “good ball possession, but no effectiveness”. They, he said, did not have the sufficient “weapons or tools” to equalize.
Pizzi’s side have found the net now just twice in their past five games and against Uruguay managed only three shots on target in 90 minutes — two of which came in added time and were so tame they would hardly have troubled the opposition goalkeeper Fernando Muslera had he been relaxing at his far post sipping a drink. In the 5-0 defeat to Russia last week, they failed to muster a single shot on target. 
Wednesday’s overall performance was much improved, yet a lack of penetrative passing was obvious. One passage of play in the opening exchanges saw Saudi Arabia complete 16 passes untroubled without the ball entering the opposition penalty box. When Uruguay finally won possession, they required only four quick exchanges to find Edinson Cavani on the left wing drilling the ball across the front of goal. 
“I don’t share that assessment,” said Pizzi, when it was put to him that his team was too slow to attack. “We played at the speed that was necessary. We need to be accurate, but if you step up the speed you lose accuracy with your passes. We had control of the game and that was why.”
Striker Mohammed Al-Sahlawi had been the focal point of much criticism from Turki Al-Sheikh, the head of Saudi’s General Sports Authority, after the Russia “fiasco” and was dropped from the side against Uruguay. So too was goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf, another who Al-Sheikh name-checked as having been at fault.
Pizzi, asked whether the scathing assessment from his bosses had forced his hand when it came to team selection, calmly dismissed the suggestion. He also ruled out the notion that administrative issues between the players and the country’s football federation had caused unrest in his squad.
“I have a list of 23 players here and they are all available to play. We are here together and pushing in the same direction. 
“I wanted — and still want — to make the Saudi Arabian people feel proud of our energy and the desire we show in matches. Unfortunately we were unable to do that against Russia and will be playing our next match without any hope of progressing. I hope now they will feel a little more proud even though we are out of the World Cup,” he said.