YEKATERINBURG: The talk was, of course, all about Mohamed Salah. Since the Liverpool forward injured his shoulder in the Champions League final 19 days ago, all of Egypt’s build-up has centered on whether the forward would be fit to start their opening World Cup match, against Uruguay on Friday. And, frankly, the answer remains unclear.
Hector Cuper, the Egypt manager, was upbeat on Thursday, but the word from the training camp was less definitive.
“Mohamed is doing very well, indeed,” Cuper said. “He has recovered very quickly. We’ve paid a lot of attention to him. He has had training sessions with us. We have to see how he recovers from today, but I can say almost 100 percent he will play, save for any unforeseen factors at the last moment.”
Salah took a full part in Egypt’s in-stadium training on Thursday, but it was notable that he was tentative, at best, in the windmill exercises. Where other players swung their arms above their heads, he rarely lifted his above shoulder height.
What that means, if anything, is open to interpretation: Salah must have known he was being watched and it could be he was gently teasing his observers. Certainly, there was no other sign of discomfort: His general attitude seemed relaxed.
It is also clear that he has given everything to be available to play on what will be his 26th birthday.
“Salah did a training session yesterday,” said Cuper. “He does three training sessions per day. He does training with the doctors, by himself, personal training and very specific exercises. He has recovered from his injury, but he still trains a lot. He has to do a lot of physical and mental training. Why does he do this? Because that’s what he feels he needs to recover and he has shown great recovery so far.”
Is there a danger that the injury may make him tentative? “We’re trying to make him feel confident,” said Cuper. “Even the doctors are giving him the option whether he plays or not. I know Salah very well and he is not fearful. We know we always run a risk when we play a match. That’s something we cannot hide. In terms of him on the pitch, if he does decide to play, he will have full guarantees in terms of his physical condition. If it does turn out there is an issue, we’ll consider it and see if that can be resolved.” Which sounded rather less certain than some of his other statements.
What nobody doubts is how important Salah is to Egypt. He was joint top-scorer in African qualifying with five and scored two of Egypt’s five goals at last year’s Cup of Nations. “He could become the top goal-scorer,” said Cuper. “Why not? And one of the best payers. He has responded very well to the injury, and he has shown he has great character, personality, talent.”
Salah is the one celebrity player Egypt have, which is why a local journalist presented Cuper with a pair of felt boots to pass on to him as a birthday present, with an accompanying — and, given the temperature is in the mid-to-high teens, slightly weird — question about how he is coping with the cold.
That, clearly, is not the problem, but the shoulder may yet be. For all Cuper’s confidence, the sense is that it would be a risk to play him. But then it would also be a risk if
he did not.