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.


Joshua reveals he’s gone back to school ahead of Ruiz rematch

Updated 06 December 2019

Joshua reveals he’s gone back to school ahead of Ruiz rematch

  • “I really started studying boxing again”: Joshua

RIYADH: Former world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua has admitted that he has been hitting the books just as hard as the gym in his six-month buildup to this weekend’s epic Clash On The Dunes bout in Riyadh.

The 30-year-old revealed that, as well as sparring with up to five fighters in a row, he committed to learning as much as he could about the “science of boxing” in his preparations for the rematch following his June defeat to Mexican-American fighter Andy Ruiz.

The pair meet again on Saturday in the jewel in the crown of Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah Season — with tickets selling fast in the face of phenomenal demand.

To Joshua, the fight is his chance of redemption following Ruiz’s shock win in New York’s Madison Square Garden, so he has left no stone unturned in his quest to produce the perfect performance under the lights and with the eyes of the world watching.

“After that fight, I knew my mistakes,” he told Arab News. “That’s why I said: ‘You were the better man that day. I give you it. First-ever Mexican champion. Hats off to you.’”

He continued: “I wasn’t low because I know I’m better than that and that I’ve got a lot more I needed to give. I just knew that me and Andy are different in every aspect — the only thing we have in common is time. So I made sure I used my time wisely because I knew I was going to get it right. I knew what I needed to work on. It was more strategic planning.

“Ever since I walked into boxing I’ve been dominating. From the amateurs — bosh, championship. Turned pro — bosh, championship. You never really understand what (you have) until it’s taken (from you).

“Then I had time to think and that’s when I really started studying boxing again. There is no doubt I can fight. I’ve been fighting top-level fighters. I’ve never really had an introduction level. I’ve just been straight on. I’ve now had the time to reflect, get my head right, get my head back in the game, and boost myself again and do what I did 10 years ago: take over this division.”

When asked what his studying entailed, Joshua — who won a gold medal in the heavyweight category at the 2012 London Olympics — explained: “Loads of videos. Sometimes you can put fighters side-by-side — both 6 feet 6 inches, both weighing roughly the same amount — but you can see one is more disciplined with technique than the other, you can then see why they became more successful in their field and you learn about the discipline of following through your tactics. Stuff like that.

“You learn about when you move to the left against an orthodox fighter: Is that a dangerous move or is that a smart move to control a fighter? What does it mean to move to the right? What’s the first art of defensive boxing? It’s your feet — get out the way. You start to indulge yourself in the sweet science. Before I was more, ‘I’ve just come to fight.’ Now I’ve learned about the sweet science of the sport, which is important as well.”

In line with his learning, Joshua has ensured his 3,000-mile trip from London does not impact his training and fight preparation. In the lead-up to June’s defeat, he spent seven weeks away from home in Miami. On this occasion, he has arrived only two weeks prior — allowing him to maintain a “training camp vibe” to his buildup.

He believes he is now in the perfect place ahead of Saturday’s blockbuster bout, admitting he actually finds the actual fight the least nerve-wracking part of the whole experience.

“I just kept a training routine and focused on business: Keep my focus and get the job done,” he said. “I’m not nervous at all. I’m confident. I don’t think I’ve ever been nervous for a fight. I’ve probably been more nervous sparring. I trap myself in a dungeon, so I feel like I’m an experiment in a lab. I then come and present my efforts to you.

“That’s why I feel I’ve got so much pressure on myself, because behind closed doors I work so hard mentally and physically to try and stay at the top. I spar, like, five guys in a row who come to take my head off, and I’ve got to be sharp in every second of that round, which will ultimately (affect) what I do on fight night. Training is the hardest part, I think. That’s why I’m never nervous about a fight, because I put so much work in in the gym.”

Ruiz’s win over Joshua in June sent reverberations across all divisions of the sport, with many considering it one of boxing’s biggest ever upsets. So, could lightning strike twice?

“I think it’s kind of like an exam, isn’t it?” said Joshua. “You go through it once, you fail. Most people fail their first driving test, then they go again and prepare better, so I think I’m better prepared if I’m honest with you. You will definitely see the energy in the fight a bit different this time.”

Asked what the outcome would be if he were to suffer a second defeat to Ruiz in seven months, Joshua said: “Definitely catastrophic. But I’m not even thinking about losing. It’ll be big business when I win. I just got to keep focusing on the win.”

He added, “Everyone fails their first driving test. I think I got mine the second time.”