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Africa Cup of Nations

Afcon 2021: Ugly Egypt must lose Salah dependence

11:59 AM IST 28/01/22
CAN 2022 - Egypte Mohamed Salah
The Pharaohs’ reliance on the Liverpool superstar will only harm their chances of claiming an eighth African title

Mohamed Salah’s words before Egypt’s Round of 16 encounter with the Ivory Coast were particularly clear-cut.

The Liverpool superstar emphasised the need for the team to be at the forefront and centre of Africa Cup of Nations conversations, rather than any one individual.

“If you love Egypt and the Egyptian national team, you should support the team and not a specific player,” Salah said before the Pharaohs played the Elephants.

“You harm the player and make him feel that he’s more important than the team, and this is not true. There is no player more important than the team, whether it’s me or anyone else.

“Also, my message to people in the TV studios is that I hope you can talk about the entire team and not one or two individuals. I don’t follow these shows, but some follow and are affected by them.

“Keep supporting the team until the end of the tournament and then talk about each player.”

As is his wont, Salah is reasonably preaching the importance of a strong team dynamic, but there is a feeling his teammates ought to take those remarks on board as well.

Indeed, it will not be out of place to imply the North African giants are reliant on the Liverpool star’s decisiveness for success.

Truthfully, it will be hard not to because of his ability, menace and end product. The former Chelsea attacker entered this year’s finals as the best player at the showpiece and arguably the best in the world owing to strong performances and wider consistency for Jurgen Klopp’s men.

He signed off before Afcon in style, too, scoring a brilliant strike at Stamford Bridge as Liverpool and the Blues played out a 2-2 draw at his old stomping ground.

It signalled the Egypt talisman’s readiness for the finals, looking to inspire the seven-time winners to an eighth crown.

Be that as it may, it has far from plain sailing despite the Pharaohs confirming their place in the imminent quarter-finals following a shootout success over Ivory Coast on Wednesday. It ended goalless after 120 minutes, with quality chances at a premium.

While Egypt have let in only one goal all competition — their 1-0 defeat by Nigeria — they have not pulled up trees at the finals…and neither has Salah.

Of course, the forward’s goal against Guinea-Bissau earned the North Africans their first points of the competition, but their absence of a killer instinct could have been costly had Mama Balde’s 84th-minute strike stood.

With their best player still to find his range, the team have struggled for goals as a consequence, and Mohamed Abdelmoneim remains the only player not named Salah to score for Egypt in Cameroon.

Maybe this situation should not come as a surprise. Before the start of the ongoing competition, the 29-year-old had been involved in 60 percent of the nation’s goals at Afcon finals since his 2017 debut, scoring four times and assisting two of the side’s 10 strikes.

Heading into what will be a mouth-watering North African derby with Morocco, he has now scored five and set up a couple of his team’s 12 strikes since 2017.

Perhaps worryingly, Carlos Queiroz’s team have struggled to fashion quality chances for most of the tournament and it is no surprise Salah’s goal against Guinea-Bissau is hitherto the nation’s only one from open play.

Amid all the ongoing troubles has been an excessive inclination to lean on the Liverpool man, passing him the ball at every opportunity even when there are other sensible passing options for the man in possession.

While you understand how the presence of a talented player could often lead to such an overdependence, the Pharaohs’ proclivity is arguably doing more harm than good for their Afcon prospects.

The absence of any integration was obvious against Nigeria and the inability to convince in subsequent victories over Guinea-Bissau, Sudan and Ivory Coast is a concern for Africa’s greatest side.

Weaning Egypt off their Salah dependency will likely increase the North African nation’s Afcon chances, yet such an eventuality is improbable to foresee…not at the ongoing finals, at least.