Liverpool and Egypt set to clash over Salah

Mohamed Salah during the warm-up before Saturday's match against Crystal Palace. (Reuters)
Updated 24 November 2019

Liverpool and Egypt set to clash over Salah

  • Possible Olympics call-up could see star miss start of 2020 season.

CAIRO: The second Egypt’s Under-23 (U23) football team qualified for next year’s Tokyo Olympics, the guessing game as to whether star player Mohamed Salah would be included began.

Since Olympic football squads can take three players older than 23, there was near unanimity that Salah, one of the world’s best players, would make the cut.

The team’s head coach, Shawky Gharib, said it was too soon to make a decision on Salah, 27, but that an announcement would be made in due course.

But the prospect is not universally popular. Ramadan Sobhi, the U23 captain, rejected the idea of Salah joining the squad.

“The team has 21 players, they fought to reach Tokyo. They deserve to be there more than any other player,” he said.

Abroad, there is also less enthusiasm, with the media in the UK suggesting Salah was on a collision course with his Liverpool coach, Jurgen Klopp.

Taking part would rule Salah out of Klopp’s plans for the start of next season, as he would miss the entirety of the club’s pre-season and their start to the top flight campaign. It would also mean the player spending another summer playing for his country, instead of getting well-needed rest.

Egyptian TV sports show host Ahmed Shobeir said: “Salah’s team won’t refuse his participation in Tokyo.” The UK’s Daily Mirror, though, said Salah’s previous run-ins with the Egyptian FA, coupled with his commitment to the Reds, could prevent him featuring in the tournament.

Salah might relish the opportunity to play in Tokyo, just like he did at London 2012. To represent one’s country at the Olympic Games is an opportunity that does not come knocking often. But to avoid burnout and injury, a Salah no-show would not be that surprising either.

Olympic football also rarely exhibits glamor names. Neymar helping Brazil to the gold medal in Rio in 2016 was an exception.

Normally, the games do not attract world class players, mainly because FIFA, world football’s governing body, wants to keep it that way. FIFA insists that the Olympics does not rival the World Cup.

To ensure that, FIFA allows only three senior players to join U23 teams as opposed to when it opened the doors, decades ago, to basketball and tennis professionals. That created extremely popular appearances at the Olympics by the NBA “Dream Team” and the great Steffi Graf.

Olympic football must also share the spotlight with over 30 other sports. So, in the Olympics, interest is not concentrated solely on football.

Salah may actually have a more pleasant experience playing with the U23 team. Egypt’s young charges are certainly doing better in their age group than their elders.

The junior “Pharaohs” beat Mali, Ghana, Cameroon, South Africa and Cote d’Ivoire en route to the crown and Tokyo.

Salah’s involvement with the senior national team, meanwhile, has been mixed.

He was Egypt’s hero when he scored the penalty that got them to the 2018 World Cup following a 28-year hiatus from the tournament, but Egypt then finished last in its group.

A shoulder injury sustained playing in the final of the 2018 UEFA Champions League clearly limited him then, but when he returned to full fitness at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, Egypt was again humiliated, knocked out in the last 16 on home soil.

Although Salah is third on the list of international goalscorers for his country, accusations abound that he does not play as well with Egypt as he does with Liverpool. The explanation is obvious: He plays and trains much more with his club than country, in a system that suits him, with better players than Egypt have to offer.

The bar is set so high for Salah that expectations from Egyptians are sometimes too high.

It would surely please Egyptians to see him in Tokyo, but how effective would Salah be in a team of youths not able to match his level, with whom he has never played before?

Moreover, his inclusion would mean another, younger player, not getting the chance, and experience needed, to perhaps grow into the next Mohamed Salah. That would be unfair, considering how far the 22 players who currently make up the U23s have come by themselves.

It’s not likely that Egypt will win in Tokyo, even with Salah around. It has never won an Olympic football medal. It has made 12 appearances — an African record — but its best finish was fourth in Amsterdam 1928, and again in Tokyo in 1964.

Salah’s inclusion might change the nation’s fortunes. But it is far from a guarantee.


Juventus coach Sarri: Cristiano is in another class

Updated 7 min 19 sec ago

Juventus coach Sarri: Cristiano is in another class

  • The 38-year-old is the only player to have scored at least league 15 goals in each of the last 14 seasons

MILAN: Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to form has coincided with Juventus taking a firm grip on Serie A.

Ronaldo did not score at all in November, but he scored twice as Juventus beat Parma 2-1 on Sunday to take his tally to 11 in his last seven league matches.

The win also put Juventus on course for a record-extending ninth straight Serie A title as the Bianconeri moved four points above Inter Milan. They were two points behind the Nerazzurri a month and a half ago.

Ronaldo has struggled with injury this season and missed three Serie A matches, playing through pain in others.

The 38-year-old Portugal forward has nevertheless scored 16 goals in 17 matches, becoming the first Juventus player to have that many goals after 20 matches since Omar Sivori in 1960.

Ronaldo is also the only player to have scored at least 15 goals in one of Europe’s top five leagues in each of the last 14 seasons.

“Cristiano is in another class,” Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri said. “Sometimes he poses you a little bit of a problem but he will solve 100 others for you.”

While Juventus managed to grind out results in November when Ronaldo wasn’t scoring, Inter struggle when their top scorers are not on form.

There have been three matches since December where neither Romelu Lukaku nor Lautaro Martínez have managed to find the back of the net. All three ended in draws.

The latest was a surprise 1-1 result at relegation-threatened Lecce on Sunday.

That is also down to a general drop in pace in the team as, prior to that, Inter had managed to win the previous four matches where Lukaku and Martínez didn’t score.

“The final result stems from the fact that we’re a team that needs to go at 200 kph. We cannot afford to be off the pace,” Inter coach Antonio Conte said. “It’s evident that if we go at an average pace, if we go into cruise speed, we become a normal team and aren’t able to get a result.”

Substitute

Mario Balotelli’s match lasted only seven minutes on Sunday and he could now find himself with even less playing time in the coming weeks.

Balotelli came on as a substitute in the 74th minute of Brescia’s 2-2 draw against Cagliari but shortly afterward was shown a yellow card for a high tackle and then immediately shown a second after repeatedly swearing at the referee.

Depending on what referee Antonio Giua writes in his report, Balotelli could be suspended for several matches.

The forward will certainly miss Brescia’s next match, against former team AC Milan.

“I think the yellow card was too harsh. Mario didn’t feel it was right, and his protests didn’t seem excessive to me,” Brescia coach Eugenio Corini said. “It’s a pity because he came on with the desire to make us win the match.”

Balotelli was banned for the first four matches of the Serie A season following a red card in his last match with Marseille last season.

“It’s incredible how one episode can always drastically change from too negative or too positive everyone’s opinion on the character or professionalism of a person,” Balotelli wrote on his Instagram story after the match. “I will continue with my daily work this time, too. It’s not a problem. You can continue to judge me as you wish.”