Mo Salah: The Liverpool man carrying a greater burden for his country than Lionel Messi

Mo Salah: The Liverpool man carrying a greater burden for his country than Lionel Messi

Ahead of next summer's World Cup in Russia and with the Reds' Egyptian star in the form of his career, expectation weighs heavy on Salah. So can he deliver on the big stage in 2018 and bring a divided nation together?

Neil Leverett

To say 2017 has been an eventful year for Mohamed Salah would be an understatement in the extreme. In the midst of a golden campaign in the Premier League for Liverpool however, his rising star in the Land of the Pharaohs has seen the pressure barometer on the forward's game rise to inexorably-high levels.

Not least in his native land, where 25-year-old Salah has been the driving force behind The Pharaoh's return to the World Cup stage for the first time since Italia '90, almost three decades ago.

Such is the expectation on the player now, that football fever has hit a country divided by politics, race and religion - to the backdrop of the never-ending threat of conflict on their doorstep. Salah is the remedy to that, but with is comes the pressure that Lionel Messi would do well to garner himself.

Heightened expectations 

Putting to bed a 27-year exodus from the world-footballing stage, Salah scored five times in qualifying from CAF, with his 95th-minute penalty against the Congo in Alexandria in October, igniting scenes of celebration across the country.

Having the bottle to strike his second of the game from the penalty spot, Salah had etched his name into sporting folklore in Northern Africa, but now must handle the adoration of millions in his home country.

More than that however - and behind a picture of protests, politics and power struggles that have dominated recent headlines - it is easy to forget that there are people living their daily lives. The Reds' prolific forward has become their metaphorical idol to such an extent, that he has allowed Egypt - if only for 90 minutes - to come together and forget a trouble past.

Hopes of a nation

Such are the hopes that Salah brings, his status is almost now reaching proportions of one Barcelona star. But whilst Messi almost single-handedly led Argentina to World Cup resurrection, he is not expected to part the Red Sea or re-enact miracles from the bible. The former - at least in sporting terms - now is.

Some corners of the Liverpool fan-base have already lovingly adopted the Egyptian as 'King' Mo, but whilst his star continues to soar on Merseyside, the followers of the man named 'Mohamed' are now expectant on biblical levels.

Having broken records at Anfield in his first season back in England also, there is now genuine belief that Egypt could progress from the group stage of a major international tournament at the third attempt.

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Memories of Italia '90

With few expectations of just their second World Cup participation back in 1990, the story come June could be very different for Egypt. The three group games in Italy were punctuated by just the one goal from Magdi Abdelghani, as Mahmoud El-Gahory's side earned just two points - with England amongst their opponents in a nervous 1-0 win for the Three Lions in Cagliari.

As former African Cup of Nations winners now however, the stakes are somewhat higher when the men in red lineup against Uruguay in just under six months' time, with Salah very much bearing the crown of thorns for his home nation.

Salah has the rare opportunity this summer of bringing his countrymen and women together that many a political figure have failed since the term of the millennium.

Sport has the unique ability to unify and the hope for Egypt will be evidenced in Russia. But in terms of sheer weight of hope of millions of people, Salah holds the poisoned chalice in his hands.

Whilst he may not be considered as the greatest exponents of his field when he hangs up his boots, unlike the Messi et al however, Salah bares the grander responsibility on his rather diminutive shoulders in 2018.