VOLGOGRAD, Russia (AP) — Egypt striker Mohamed Salah’s shoulder injury appeared Sunday to have significantly improved before the Pharaohs’ last World Cup game against Saudi Arabia.
The 26-year-old Liverpool player, however, didn’t seem to be 100-percent fit during warmup drills in the team’s final training session.
Salah, Injured in last month’s Champions League final, showed more energy and upper body mobility in practice than earlier in the tournament, but didn’t appear to match his teammates’ pace during the drills.
Salah was an unused substitute in Egypt’s 1-0 loss to Uruguay June 15, but started against host Russia five days later, scoring a penalty in a 3-1 loss.
Salah, with 44 goals to his name in all competitions in his first season at Liverpool, showed only glimpses of the speed and marksmanship that made him the Premier League’s best player last season. He played with obvious caution in the match against Russia, but his presence on the pitch appears to always inspire and balance the Egyptians.
“He is a natural goal scorer who could make a difference in seconds,” Egypt coach Hector Cuper said at a news conference.
Both eliminated from the tournament, the Saudis and Egyptians play each other Monday in Volgograd, in what promises to be a hotly contested Arab derby with the two sides keen not to leave the tournament without a win or at least a point. Like Egypt, Saudi Arabia lost its first two matches — 5-0 to Russia in the World Cup’s opening match and 1-0 to Uruguay.
“It’s an important match because we want to conclude our participation in the World Cup with a good result,” Cuper said. “We want to unleash jubilant scenes (in Egypt) and hand the Egyptian people a good result that makes them happy.”
The Argentine then suggested that he would field a side not much different from the 11 he started with against Uruguay and Russia.
Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi also promised that he was taking the match seriously even though it’s a dead rubber.
“Tomorrow’s game is important to Saudis and I will field the best 11,” he said.
This is Saudi Arabia’s fifth World Cup since 1994, when they made it to the knockout stage. They haven’t won a World Cup game since, exiting at the group stage in 1998, 2002 and 2006. The Egyptians’ record is worse. They didn’t win in the two World Cups they went to — Italy in 1934 and in 1990 — and will be looking Monday to give millions of fans back home something to cheer about amid growing economic hardships.
Egypt’s 45-year-old goalkeeper, Essam El Hadary, meanwhile, told reporters Sunday he would be the happiest man in the world if her gets to play against Saudi Arabia, something that would make him the oldest-ever player to figure in a World Cup match.
El Hadary didn’t play against Uruguay or Russia and there has been no word from the Pharaohs’ management on whether he would get any playing time against Saudi Arabia.
Asked about how he would feel about playing, he said: “I will be the world’s happiest man, but whether I play or not is up to the management.”
More AP World Cup coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup