(Reuters) - Egypt forward Mohamed Salah heads to the World Cup with the reputation of being one of the most lethal finishers in the game, and his country’s hopes of making it to the knockout stages rest overwhelmingly on his shoulders.
Few would have guessed what was to come when Salah moved from Italy’s AS Roma to Liverpool for a club-record fee at the start of the season, but the 25-year-old’s prolific campaign earned him a sweep of top individual awards.
A return of 44 goals and 16 assists has helped to fire Liverpool to the Champions League final and Salah was named African player of the year as well as the top player in England by the PFA and Football Writers’ Association.
He is already being compared to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and will have a shot at breaking that daunting duo’s stranglehold on the Ballon d’Or if he can lead Egypt out of Group A and into the knockout stages in Russia.
Salah’s pace and eye for goal make him a formidable opponent and he is adored in his country, with every game he plays for Liverpool watched by thousands of fans in Cairo.
Egypt would not be heading to the World Cup without Salah — his two goals against Congo secured their qualification for the tournament.
Salah’s dramatic stoppage-time penalty that sent Egypt through to their first World Cup appearance in 28 years was celebrated wildly in the streets by millions of fans and he is hailed as a hero in the country.
Egypt are set up to get the best out of their talisman, defending deep and looking to get the ball to his feet as quickly as possible to allow him to do what he does best.
The soccer-mad nation has never won a match at the World Cup but if Salah can capture even a fraction of his best form in Russia the fans could be dancing in the streets of Cairo in a few weeks’ time.
Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru, editing by Ed Osmond