Salah’s spats with Egypt in spotlight in African qualifying
Mohamed Salah’s series of spats with his national soccer association will loom over the Egypt team as it attempts to recover from a poor — some called it disastrous — World Cup when African Cup qualifying recommences this weekend.
The Liverpool forward appears to have won his latest tussle with the Egyptian soccer association after demanding better organization and more protection for players who were exposed to a politically-charged environment at the World Cup, where Egypt lost all its games.
Salah’s unhappiness stemmed from photo opportunities he and others were apparently cajoled into attending in Russia with Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who is accused of human rights abuses.
With his latest demands met, Salah, who has previously argued with the federation over his image rights, is with the Egypt squad for Saturday’s qualifier against Niger.
All five of the African teams that disappointed at the World Cup — no team from the continent made the knockout stage — are in action over the weekend and looking to ease their Russian hangovers.
Many of them, Egypt included, are currently out of the qualifying places and have work to do to make sure they play at the African Cup of Nations next year in Cameroon.
THE SALAH SPATS
Egypt needs Salah, a finalist for FIFA world player of the year, to be happy again after losing its first qualifier to Tunisia.
That left Egypt at the bottom of its four-team group (the top two qualify) ahead of a home game against Niger in Alexandria. Egypt is expected to win but if the Salah-federation battle resurfaces, it has the potential to destabilize a team which underperformed over the last eight years before a mini-revival to make the World Cup.
Egypt is playing under coach Javier Aguirre for the first time with Hector Cuper out after the World Cup. Aguirre is surrounded by his own issues after being named in a match-fixing investigation in Spain.
Captain John Obi Mikel, Alex Iwobi, William Troost-Ekong and Ola Aina are out injured. Victor Moses announced his international retirement after the World Cup at the age of only 27.
Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr is also without his most senior coaching assistant, with Salisu Yusuf banned from soccer for a year this week for accepting cash from a reporter in an undercover sting.
Rohr reminded his players after they gathered in the picturesque Indian Ocean archipelago that “we are not here on vacation, we are here for serious business.”
“The World Cup is behind us now but we must allow the lessons we learned in Russia make us better,” Rohr said.
GHANA IN CRISIS
The 2010 World Cup quarterfinalists from Ghana are facing their toughest time in recent memory, even if they lead their qualifying group.
Soccer in Ghana is in crisis after national association head and FIFA Council member Kwesi Nyantakyi was suspended on allegations of corruption. From there, the government tried to disband the entire Ghana soccer association, accusing it of deep-rooted graft. Ghana narrowly avoided being banned from international soccer by FIFA and the sport there is being run by a temporary committee.
With that backdrop, Ghana, which also failed to make the World Cup for the first time since 2002, plays at Kenya on Saturday.
AMUNIKE’S COACHING DEBUT
Amunike, a former Nigeria international and African player of the year, has been in charge for a month.
HE’S A HUMBLE MANE
While Salah calls for more respect, Liverpool teammate Sadio Mane has won admirers for a surprising act of humility; helping clean toilets at a mosque he attends.
Senegal also had an unhappy experience at the World Cup, provoking criticism of coach Aliou Cisse from his former teammates on Senegal’s 2002 squad, which made the World Cup quarterfinals.
“I accept criticism when it’s constructive,” Cisse said ahead of the game against Madagascar on Sunday. “They must first accept that I am the national coach and that I make the decisions. After that there is no problem. We can discuss.”