Liverpool team-mates Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are poised to do battle again for a place in the World Cup
Amid the celebrations at his country’s historic achievement, Sadio Mane took a moment to seek out Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah.
Mane had just scored the winning penalty in the shoot-out to earn Senegal an Africa Cup of Nations final triumph over Egypt in Cameroon last month, Salah left standing as he waited to take the final spot kick that never came given his team had already missed twice.
The Egyptian, though, was swiftly consoled by Mane, who placed an arm around his fellow Anfield forward and was spotted offering Salah some words of solace.
“I told him that he remains a very great player and it’s a pleasure to play for the same club,” Mane later revealed. “I have so much respect for him and he gave everything for his country. Unfortunately, he didn’t win, but that doesn’t mean it’s over for him. I also told him that he still has many things to win.”
Mane, though, will hope he isn’t proven right at the first available opportunity. After returning to Liverpool to help keep alive hopes of an unprecedented quadruple, the duo are back on opposing sides as Senegal and Egypt face off for a place at the World Cup finals in Qatar later this year.
The first leg takes place in Cairo on Friday night, with a new 50,000-seater stadium in the Senegal city of Diamniadio the venue for the return game on Tuesday evening. Only one can reach the finals, with the 10 remaining teams in the African qualifying section having been split into five play-off games for the quintet of available slots.
Both Mane and Salah will be keen to reach Qatar to help make amends for their respective appearances at the last World Cup in Russia four years ago. Mane scored in a 2-2 draw with Japan but Senegal were ultimately eliminated by the Samurai Blue at the group stage on fair play points having lost 1-0 to Colombia in their final game through a goal from future Everton defender Yerry Mina.
Salah, meanwhile, suffered a personal nightmare. Despite scoring twice, Egypt lost all three group games with the Liverpool man hampered by the shoulder injury he suffered in the Champions League final loss to Real Madrid and disagreements with the Egyptian FA over off-field activities during the tournament.
Injury again was in danger of threatening Salah this week, having missed Liverpool’s FA Cup quarter-final win over Nottingham Forest with a foot problem. The news, though, is better in that regard. “Salah is fit and ready for the clash,” said Egypt national team general manager Diaa El-Sayed on Wednesday.
“I don’t want to be twice the one who is doing things like that, which could be misunderstood,” said the Liverpool boss. “Mo was unavailable, only Sadio we left out.”
There’s little doubt that while tired legs and drained emotions have undoubtedly affected both Mane and Salah at times since returning from the AFCON six weeks ago, Mane has received a notable boost in his level of performance while Salah is lacking a little sharpness.
Klopp and Liverpool will hope there are no lingering negative after-effects when the pair are back at Kirkby later next week. One will have a World Cup finals to look forward to – both, though, will have the small matter of a quadruple to continue cracking on.
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