Mane eclipses Salah again as Liverpool pair endure mixed World Cup fortunes

Mohamed Salah Egipto Senegal 2022

Senegal’s World Cup qualifying playoff against Egypt was billed both as a rematch of the pair’s Africa Cup of Nations final last month, and a meeting between Liverpool duo Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.

One of the Anfield pair—arguably Africa’s two best players—were going to miss out on the global showpiece, and ultimately, it’s Salah who will have to sit out Qatar after Senegal’s penalty shootout victory in Dakar.

The Merseyside two endured mixed fortunes in Tuesday’s second leg, with Salah stepping up to take Egypt’s first penalty—only to blaze it over the crossbar—before Mane converted Senegal’s final spotkick.

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Mane’s successful effort was a repeat of the Nations Cup final, as the forward stepped up to fire home the Teranga Lions’ decisive fifth kick—securing their first ever continental crown.

Salah had faced criticism for not stepping up during the Afcon final, with the attacker scheduled for Egypt’s fifth penalty, but the shootout had already been decided before it was his turn to face Edouard Mendy.

This time, he stepped up first for the North Africans—emulating Senegal captain Kalidou Koulibaly by taking responsibility—but both skippers missed their opening kicks; the Napoli man slamming his against the crossbar and Salah firing over the bar.

There were mitigating circumstances, with the home fans shining lasers in the eyes of the visiting Egypt players throughout the contest, particularly targeting Mohamed El Shenawy as they sought to destabilise the Pharaohs stopper.

The green lights shone from the crowd appeared to be localised entirely on Salah’s face when he stepped up for his spotkick, although it remains to be seen whether the forward will blame the supporters’ intervention for his missed effort.

Mohamed Salah Sadio Mane Egypt SenegalGetty

As well as the pressure of the occasion, the lasers surely had an impact on Egypt’s miserable shootout—as they scored just one of four attempted spotkicks, with Ahmed Sayed Zizo and Mostafa Mohamed both missing from the spot.

So, for the second time in the space of two months, it’s Mane who eclipses Salah in a potentially career-defining fixture, with the Senegal superstar now adding a ticket to Qatar to the African title he won last month.

It’s a great irony that a season that started so strongly for Salah at club level—he also eclipsed Didier Drogba to become Africa’s all-time top scorer in the Premier League—is morphing into a campaign of such personal disappointment.

Of course, he could still win major silverware with Liverpool this term, but Egypt’s failures over the last four weeks will certainly count against him when the continent’s all-time greats are being assessed and evaluated years from now.

What will it do for his Ballon d'Or prospects?

Mohamed Salah & Wael Gomaa, EgyptGetty Images

Despite a fine performance against Morocco—and a somewhat generous inclusion in Caf’s Team of the Tournament—Salah was far from his best at the Nations Cup, where he struggled to ignite an Egypt side that owed much of their run to the final to a rugged and resilient defensive display.

He doesn’t appear to have the guile and invention to lift those around him when the Pharaohs are struggling to impose themselves on opponents—testament to his specific skillset rather than his overall quality—and certainly doesn’t have the quality of international teammates around him that Mane does.

Now 29, and firmly in his prime, 2022 was surely the year when peak Salah had the opportunity to truly write his legacy at international level and replicate his Liverpool achievements for the Pharaohs.

He’s already done immense things with the national side—inspiring them to the 2018 World Cup and reaching two Afcon finals—but in both of those areas, he’s now been eclipsed by Mane, a player who has so often been in his shadow at club level.

Sadio Mane Senegal 2022Getty Images

Similarly, while Mane will likely have the opportunity to take on a World Cup in his prime, we’ll now never see peak Salah testing himself on the grandest stage of all; the forward failed to qualify in 2014, when he was still finding his way in the game, and injury infamously overshadowed his contribution in 2018.

Salah will now have to watch the World Cup on television, while Mane leads this fine Senegal team—African champions no less—on the global high table.

He’ll turn 34 during the 2026 World Cup, and who knows what the state of his fitness, his speed, his teammates, his form will be come the global showpiece in Canada, Mexico and the United States will be.

Senegal and Mane are deserving of their progress to Qatar, and their place at the World Cup, but there’s no doubt that we’ve missed out on the final opportunity to see Salah—arguably the finest African player on the planet—feature on the grandest stage of all, fit and unencumbered, in his prime.

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