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.


Mladenovic collapses again but blames umpire, Djokovic triumphs

Updated 30 September 2020

Mladenovic collapses again but blames umpire, Djokovic triumphs

  • The French player lost to Laura Siegemund of Germany 7-5, 6-3 after serving for the first set at 5-1

PARIS: Kristina Mladenovic’s first match since her nightmarish end to the US Open produced another collapse and a controversial umpire’s call at the French Open on Tuesday.

The French player lost to Laura Siegemund of Germany 7-5, 6-3 after serving for the first set at 5-1.

Mladenovic was furious with chair umpire Eva Asderaki for not spotting a double bounce on set point. During a 10-stroke exchange, Mladenovic hit a drop shot that Siegemund ran for and got back over the net — although a TV replay showed the ball bounced twice. Mladenovic slowed up, looked confused, and wound up touching the net, which automatically gave the point to Siegemund.

“Mistakes are human but I don’t see how the umpire can miss that. She didn’t see a double bounce,” Mladenovic said. “Unfortunately she will continue at Roland Garros, and I won’t continue at Roland Garros.”

For Novak Djokovic, though, his first Grand Slam action since his disqualification at the US Open went as smoothly as can be.

The top-ranked Serb, who is bidding for a second title here and an 18th major title overall, beat Mikael Ymer of Sweden 6-0, 6-2, 6-3 under a closed roof at Court Philippe Chatrier. The first set lasted just 20 minutes and Djokovic broke the 80th-ranked Ymer nine times overall.

Djokovic was defaulted from his fourth-round match at the US Open this month for accidentally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball hit in anger after dropping a game.

On Tuesday it was was Siegemund who faced questions of unsportsmanlike conduct for not acknowledging the double bounce that should have handed Mladenovic the first set.

“If she would have done it, she would have all my respect and be super fair play,” Mladenovic said. “But she’s not the one responsible. I think the chair umpire is the one that should be really focused on that call.”

Siegemund also said it wasn’t up to her to make the call, and that she wasn’t sure right away whether the ball had bounced twice.

Mladenovic suggested tennis should start using video replays, like the highly controversial VAR system used in soccer.

“It would be great and we’d avoid a sad scenario like I had today,” Mladenovic said.

It wasn’t quite as sad as Flushing Meadows, though, where she served for the match at 6-1, 5-1 against Varvara Gracheva then lost a tiebreaker and lost 6-0 in the third set.

She called that the most painful loss of her career. Four days later, she was part of the top-seeded women’s doubles team dropped from the US Open for having been potentially exposed to COVID-19.

In other women’s first-round matches, second-seeded Karolina Pliskova beat Mayar Sherif 6-7 (9), 6-2, 6-4. Sherif was the first Egyptian player to qualify for the main draw at Roland Garros.

Danish teenager Clara Tauson earned her first tour-level victory by beating US Open semifinalist Jennifer Brady 6-4, 3-6, 9-7. The 17-year-old Tauson, who won the Australian Open junior title last year, saved two match points.

In remaining men’s first-round play, US Open semifinalist Matteo Berrettini defeated Vasek Pospisil 6-3, 6-1, 6-3. The seventh-seeded Italian next faces Lloyd Harris.

No. 20 Cristian Garin of Chile won against German veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 and plays lucky loser Marc Polmans.