One of the great mysteries of this World Cup centres around Mohamed Salah’s injury problems.
The Liverpool forward was selected in Egypt’s squad for the tournament, despite sustaining a serious shoulder injury in the Reds’ Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid.
Both Salah’s camp and Egypt’s have been bullish over the 26-year-old’s fitness, with the Egyptian Football Association declaring their star man fit for Tuesday’s encounter with Russia.
His agent, Ramy Abbas Issa, tweeted earlier this week, simply: “Mohamed is fit”.
However, manager Hector Cuper sounded a similar note before Egypt’s World Cup opener, a 1-0 loss to Uruguay last Friday.
He was, he told reporters, “100 per cent” sure that Salah was over his injury, and would play against Luis Suarez and co. Instead, he spent the entirety of the 90 minutes on the bench, and was eventually reduced to tears when Jose Gimenez scored the winning goal in stoppage time.
Cuper has now appeared to retract that statement, saying that Salah is facing a late fitness test before Tuesday’s encounter, which has an added importance following Egypt’s opening loss, and Russia’s 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia.
“Salah is fit. In the previous match against Uruguay we thought he was fit also but we always draw up a last physical test,” the former Valencia boss explained.
“Today (Monday) we’ll have an important test for him to see how he does. I think he will be fit to play. He is an important part of our team.
“Tomorrow (Tuesday) I am optimistic he’ll be able to play.”
Former Arsenal midfielder Stewart Robson is convinced something is awry, however, and believes Egypt may be covering for how serious Salah’s injury actually is.
“We’re disappointed he didn’t play but I think there’s more to it,” he told ESPN, via the Daily Express.
“I’m not sure he is going to play in the next game.
“If they’re saying that he’s not fit for this game, how can you then be fit five days later? I think he’s got a bigger problem than they’re saying.”
A return against Saudi Arabia may well come too late for Salah if Egypt again fall to defeat without him.
Their first encounter, however, saw a devastatingly drab performance, and fans of the Pharaohs will be hopeful of the return of their talisman.