MOSCOW, (DNA) – Three weeks and three days after Sergio Ramos twisted and slammed Egypt’s best World Cup hope into the grass, Mohamed Salah returned.He won a penalty, and scored it, ripping the ball with his left foot into the top corner.But by then, Russia were already three up and this game was as good as gone.
On show here was not the Salah that had tormented Roma and Manchester City, or scored 32 goals in the Premier League and 10 to power Liverpool to the Champions League final.
This was Salah making the best of things, hoping to deliver a single, match-winning moment even if he knew a complete performance was never on the cards.
The way he shuffled off at the end, as Russia’s substitutes rushed on to celebrate a 3-1 victory in Group A, suggested even he knew it was a long shot.
Certainly, he was not 100 per cent fit, that much had been clear on Monday when Salah jogged around the Saint Petersburg Stadium pitch, testing out his left shoulder with a series of tentative barges but opting out when his team-mates swung their arms in circles.
It was clear too in the first 30 minutes, when the 26-year-old barely touched the ball, and when he did, turned back, looked inside or, on more than one occasion, gave it away.
Egypt coach Hector Cuper had little option but to play him, of course, given a second consecutive match missed would likely mean Salah being fitter only for a dead rubber against Saudi Arabia.
Realistically, Egypt had to win here and in playing Salah, Cuper played his trump card.
There was a psychological boost to be gained too, as Egyptian fans, draped in flags and coated in face paint, bounced and cheered whenever Salah’s face appeared on the big screen.
“I say this with all respect to my other players,” Cuper had said on Monday. “When we don’t have him, we feel his absence.”