Mohamed Salah and the hope of 100 million Egyptians: 'I don't feel the pressure'

For a 100 million Egyptians the wait is over -- and so is the tension over whether the country's most famous star wil...

Posted: Jun 15, 2018 12:30 AM

For a 100 million Egyptians the wait is over -- and so is the tension over whether the country's most famous star will be ready for the World Cup.

For Egyptians, Mohamed Salah is not just a footballer -- he's a national treasure, an ambassador, and more importantly, a man who carries the hopes of an entire nation.

When Salah sustained a shoulder injury in Liverpool's Champions League final defeat by Real Madrid last month and walked off the field in agony, Egypt football fans feared the worst, even taking to social media to chastise Sergio Ramos, the defender who clashed with their hero.

But those fears were finally allayed Thursday by national team coach Hector Cuper ahead of tomorrow's opener against Uruguay.

"I can almost assure you 100 percent that he will play, save unforeseen circumstances at the very last minute," Cuper told a news conference ahead of Friday's Group A match.

Cuper's words will bring relief to Egyptian football fans who have been desperate for Salah to recover in time.

Salah, who scored 34 Premier League goals, led Liverpool to the Champions League final and guided Egypt to its first World Cup in 28 years, will take it all his stride judging by his past success.

But even for Salah, a man who so often plays with a smile on his face as if he were running around in the schoolyard, the feeling of responsibility is palpable.

Nowhere was that sense of responsibility more evident than in Alexandria last October.

Tied at 1-1 with Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt was awarded a penalty deep into stoppage time at the end of the contest.

Salah, who had already scored earlier in the contest, walked forward to collect the ball and place it on the penalty spot.

With an entire country's hopes upon his shoulders, did he feel at all nervous?

INTERACTIVE: World Cup in numbers

SCHEDULE: Matches and kickoff times

READ: Spain sacks coach after he takes Real Madrid job

READ: US-Mexico-Canada win 2026 World Cup bid

'100 million people'

"Yes, that was nervy," he says with a smile when he spoke to CNN in April.

"When I got the ball for the penalty I was just focused on the ball, I didn't think about anything else.

"I didn't think about the 28 years of not qualifying, I didn't think about 100 million people, or anyone else.

"I felt the responsibility. You have 100 million people in Egypt relying on you and you're the guy who can make the difference. But that pressure makes me perform better."

Salah stood up and fired the penalty past the goalkeeper, sparking wild scenes of celebration inside the stadium and across all of Egypt.

In a football-mad country that had not made the World Cup since 1990, this was a moment that so many have dreamed of.

READ: If Salah weren't not already a celebrity in Egypt, he is now a modern-day king.

His exploits with Liverpool, which earned him two player of the year awards as well as the African Player of the Year title, have made him into a worldwide sensation.

There's even a tribute to him at the prestigious British Museum in London, where his boots are proudly displayed alongside some of Egypt's most precious and famous artifacts.

It's a measure of his global status that a recent picture of Salah walking beside Chechnyan leader Ramzan Kadyrov has become a major talking point at the World Cup.

Kadyrov, leader of Chechnya since 2004, has stifled any form of dissent, subduing the separatist movement that fought the Russian army for nearly two decades.

"Mohamed wasn't aware or involved in any plans to meet with Ramzan Kadyrov,"a source close Salah told CNN. He was simply woken up and asked to go down to meet someone. This was not arranged with Mohamed or his representatives."

On Friday in Ekaterinburg, the capital of the Ural region known for its riches of oil, gas and gold, Egypt will look to its very own treasure to steer the team past Uruguay in its opening game.

Salah remains a doubt for the game after he suffered a shoulder injury in Liverpool's Champions League defeat by Real Madrid.

Even so Salah believes the game will capture the imagination not just in Egypt, but all of North Africa and the Middle East.

'They love football'

"Football is the first thing for everyone," Salah said ahead of the country's first World Cup appearance since 1990 and only its second ever.

"They love football. They love sport, but for them, football is number one. You can see that when the Egyptian national team plays any game.

"The Middle East is the same, all of the countries. They love football in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, everywhere. For us football is something huge that we can't stop talking about or watching."

Salah holds genuine hope of progressing through a group that also includes host nation Russia and Saudi Arabia.

If achieved, it will be the first time in the competition's history that Egypt has managed to make the knockout phase.

"We will qualify," he says confidently. "Of course, you have a difficult group, but we go with the confidence. I'm sure we will qualify.

"If you ask me, I'm sure I'm going to do my best to help the national team and help the country to go through."

It's a bold prediction -- but surely he feels some sense of pressure?

He just smiles. "I don't feel pressure."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 49575

Reported Deaths: 2739
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11812690
Lake5337247
Elkhart343257
Allen2867133
St. Joseph202569
Cass16439
Hamilton1629101
Hendricks1439100
Johnson1306118
Porter78038
Tippecanoe7439
Clark67144
Madison66864
Vanderburgh6296
LaPorte59727
Bartholomew59245
Howard58258
Kosciusko5654
Marshall5217
Noble49128
LaGrange4829
Jackson4773
Delaware46052
Boone45944
Hancock45736
Shelby43425
Floyd39144
Morgan32831
Monroe31528
Grant30226
Montgomery29720
Henry29316
Dubois2906
Clinton2882
White26810
Decatur25532
Lawrence25125
Dearborn24723
Vigo2408
Warrick23229
Harrison21722
Greene19132
Miami1892
Jennings17912
Putnam1708
DeKalb1634
Scott1628
Daviess15017
Wayne1496
Perry1409
Orange13623
Steuben1332
Franklin1278
Jasper1252
Ripley1247
Wabash1152
Carroll1122
Fayette1037
Gibson1032
Newton9910
Whitley995
Starke963
Huntington822
Randolph804
Wells791
Jefferson782
Fulton731
Jay680
Washington671
Pulaski661
Knox650
Clay644
Rush603
Owen511
Adams491
Posey490
Benton480
Spencer461
Sullivan451
Brown421
Blackford392
Fountain332
Crawford320
Tipton311
Switzerland280
Parke240
Martin220
Ohio210
Vermillion170
Warren151
Union130
Pike110
Unassigned0193

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 61331

Reported Deaths: 3006
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin11122439
Cuyahoga8518383
Hamilton6396206
Lucas2859304
Marion273739
Montgomery228335
Summit2269209
Pickaway220641
Mahoning1885239
Butler172147
Columbiana132460
Stark1171114
Lorain107368
Trumbull101474
Warren91825
Clark78410
Delaware64515
Fairfield61417
Tuscarawas59010
Belmont55822
Lake55122
Medina54832
Licking53612
Miami48631
Portage47759
Wood46151
Ashtabula43844
Clermont4367
Geauga41543
Wayne36752
Richland3595
Allen33841
Greene3009
Mercer29410
Erie26022
Darke25326
Holmes2524
Huron2342
Madison2069
Ottawa16124
Sandusky14215
Washington14220
Crawford1375
Ross1363
Putnam13315
Coshocton1323
Hardin12312
Morrow1201
Auglaize1094
Jefferson952
Muskingum921
Union921
Athens911
Monroe8917
Hancock841
Preble811
Hocking798
Lawrence790
Guernsey763
Shelby724
Williams722
Clinton700
Logan661
Fulton650
Ashland621
Wyandot615
Carroll603
Brown591
Scioto560
Defiance543
Knox531
Fayette510
Highland471
Champaign461
Van Wert430
Perry401
Seneca362
Henry320
Jackson270
Paulding270
Pike270
Adams241
Vinton222
Gallia201
Noble130
Harrison121
Meigs120
Morgan110
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
77° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 79°
Angola
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 75°
Huntington
Scattered Clouds
79° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 81°
Decatur
Clear
77° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 79°
Van Wert
Clear
77° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 79°
Breezy, Sunny Saturday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events