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.


The NBA MVP finalists: Antetokounmpo, James and Harden

Updated 09 August 2020

The NBA MVP finalists: Antetokounmpo, James and Harden

  • James would join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (a six-time winner), Michael Jordan and Bill Russell as the NBA’s only five-time MVPs
  • Antetokounmpo is bidding to become the 12th back-to-back winner of the award

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida: This season’s NBA MVP has won the award before.
A trio of past winners of the award — reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, four-time MVP LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers and 2017-18 winner James Harden of the Houston Rockets — were announced Saturday as the finalists for this season’s top NBA individual honor.
James would join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (a six-time winner), Michael Jordan and Bill Russell as the NBA’s only five-time MVPs. Antetokounmpo is bidding to become the 12th back-to-back winner of the award, and Harden is vying for his second MVP in three seasons.
“He’s an incredible teammate, plays unselfishly, does everything,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said of Antetokounmpo last month, stating his best player’s MVP case. “And I think that’s kind of what the MVP is, so we certainly feel like he’s very deserving and we’ll be excited to support him.”
Antetokounmpo is also a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year, while Utah’s Rudy Gobert is bidding to win that trophy for a third consecutive season.
The league announced the top three vote-getters in six individual categories. Voting has already taken place by a global panel of sportswriters and broadcasters.
The NBA has not set specific dates when the winners will be announced.
None of the games taking place at the NBA’s restart at Walt Disney World factored into the voting, because ballots were due before games began again July 30.
The league took the step of saying games played before the league suspended the season on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic could factor into award consideration, out of fairness to the eight teams that were not invited to the restart.
The other finalists for NBA honors:
Rookie of the Year — Ja Morant, Memphis; Kendrick Nunn, Miami; Zion Williamson, New Orleans.
Most Improved Player — Bam Adebayo, Miami; Luka Doncic, Dallas; Brandon Ingram, New Orleans.
Sixth Man — Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers; Dennis Schroder, Oklahoma City; Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers.
Defensive Player of the Year — Antetokounmpo; Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers; Rudy Gobert, Utah.
Coach of the Year — Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee; Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City; Nick Nurse, Toronto.


GASOL VS. GRIZZLIES
Marc Gasol spent parts of 11 seasons in Memphis, going to three All-Star Games with a Grizzlies jersey on his back, earning two All-NBA selections there and a Defensive Player of the Year award as well.
And now, he’ll play against his former team for the first time.
The Grizzlies face Gasol and the Toronto Raptors on Sunday. It’ll be the first game between the clubs since Gasol was traded to Toronto in February 2019 — a move that helped the Raptors win last season’s NBA championship.
Gasol said facing Memphis would be emotional.
“I got there when I was 16 years old. It was my first time out of Spain,” said Gasol, who still owns his Memphis home. “I started high school there as a teenager and left as a father of two kids. ... My ties to the city and my roots go pretty deep and my love for the people there, what they mean and the franchise, it’s forever.”
Gasol helped Memphis make the playoffs in seven consecutive seasons including the 2013 run to the Western Conference finals. He is the Grizzlies’ all-time leader for minutes played, field goals made, free throws made and attempted, rebounds, blocks and triple-doubles and is second in points — 49 behind Mike Conley.
The Raptors were supposed to have played back-to-back games against Memphis this season, going there March 28 and then playing host to the Grizzlies March 30. Those games, of course, were called off because of the season suspension caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Obviously it’s a little bittersweet that we couldn’t play in the city of Memphis, to get that love and feel that Iove from the fans,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. “But I’m sure he’ll be happy to see some familiar faces and a lot of the people that he spent a lot of time with over the years.”


WORKING WIZARDS
On Friday, the Washington Wizards were eliminated from playoff contention.
On Saturday, they practiced.
The Wizards knew they were playoff longshots even before coming to the NBA’s restart at Disney, especially since Bradley Beal didn’t make the trip because of injury and Davis Bertans opted not to play because of health concerns.
But these eight games — Washington is 0-5 at Disney with three games left — were considered learning opportunities for the team’s young players, and a chance to get some high-level work in before the offseason starts. And just because the playoff chances are now gone doesn’t mean Wizards coach Scott Brooks is changing his thinking on that front.
“It’s about getting better,” Brooks said. “You know, I love our group. We want to keep improving. And the record, I’m not happy with it but I’m happy with our effort after every game that we’ve been in.”
Brooks has told his team repeatedly at Disney that the losses go on his record, not theirs.
“You can’t waste the days, you have to keep working on each day and keep improving and it’s hard,” Brooks said. “It’s hard to go through, you know, five losses in a row. But in order to get where we need to get to, you’re going to have to deal with it. You’re going to have to be able to handle it. You’re going to have to be able to get better from it, and it also has to hurt, going through it. And that’s fine.”


BUCKS CLINCH
The road to the NBA championship will go through Milwaukee’s white uniforms.
The Bucks have secured the top overall seed in the NBA playoffs for the second consecutive year, the clincher coming when the Los Angeles Lakers lost to Indiana on Saturday.
Ordinarily, that would come with the right to host Game 1 and Game 7 of every series. This year, it just means that the Bucks will be called the home team in those games in each postseason round that they reach.