Throwback : How Liverpool icon Mo Salah stopped an apocalypse in Egypt

FOOTBALL Throwback : How Liverpool icon Mo Salah stopped an apocalypse in Egypt

Mark Kinyanjui 14:30 - 01.02.2024

The story of how Mo Salah ended a long crisis in Egypt season with two critical moments.

Is Mo Salah the greatest African Football Player of all time? Some argue that he is not because he has never won anything for his country.

Most say that players like Samuel Eto’o, who won two Africa Cup of Nations titles and four African Player of the Year awards have a bigger legacy for Africa than Salah . 

Their point is further justified by the fact that Salah could not help his nation avoid a dissapointing exit to DR Congo recently. However, the "Egyptian King" is worth much more to his people than just winning titles.

The ironic thing is that Salah's football journey  really started on the same day that Egyptian football died on the first of February 2012  during a match between Al Masry and Al Ahly. , about a year since the military had overthrown Hosni Mubarak.

While many believed that the Arab Spring was going down, the revolution was still alive among the Al Ahly ultras and they instigated riots that resulted in 74 people being killed and more than 500 being injured.

This was after Al Masry fans stormed the stadium stands and the pitch following a 3–1 victory by their club.and violently attacked Ahly fans using clubs, stones, machetes, knives, bottles, and fireworks, trapping them inside the El Ahly partition of the stadium.[

Many of the deaths were due to police refusal to open the stadium gates, trapping the Ahly fans inside, leaving some to die, and killing others in a stampede while trying to escape.

As a result of the massacre, the Egyptian government shut down the domestic league for two years, and another four before fans were allowed back into the stands.

As a result, most of the national team players fled the country, and some, including Mo Aboutrika retired from the team.

You see, Egypt had won three AFCON titles in a row from 2006-2010, totaling their titles to seven and establishing themselves as the strongest nation in Africa, but as they prepared to qualify for the world cup, the Arab Spring effectively brought instability to the nation and by 2012, they failed to qualified for the AFCON.

The country needed a glimmer of hope that would show them light at the end of the tunnel given there was no football. Someone the kids could aspire to be like, but they did not realize it would be Salah, who was playing for El Mokouloun.

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Swiss Super League club Basel had been closely monitoring Mohamed Salah for some time, recognizing the talent and potential of the Egyptian footballer. 

,Basel took the initiative to organize a friendly match with the county’s Olympic team as an opportunity to observe Salah in action.

Despite only playing in the second half, Salah made a significant impact by scoring twice. His contributions played a pivotal role in the Egyptians securing a 4–3 victory. 

Impressed by his skills and performance, Basel extended an invitation for him to stay in the city for a week of training and unsurprisingly, he impressed enough to earn a four-year contract.

This pivotal move marked the beginning of Salah's European journey and provided him with the platform to showcase his talents on a broader stage. Following a successful stint in Basel, he joined Chelsea but his spell was not successful there, coincided by the fact his country missed out on qualification for the 2015 AFCON.

He decided to join Fiorentina on loan in 2015 and made sure to don the number 74 shirt in honor of the 74 people who died during the riots involved in the match back in Egypt three years earlier. He scored nine goals for the club, helping them reach a Europa League semi final and getting them fourth for the first time in 15 years.

He would then join Roma, before moving to Liverpool where he was set to have a historic campaign, scoring 44 goals, but it was his contributions for Egypt while at Roma that would change the country forever.

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Salah scored four goals in four qualifying matches of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers to help them qualify for the competition again for the first time since 2011.

He scored one goal and made another assist to help the country finish top of group D before wins over Morocco and Burkina Faso set them a place in the finals against Cameroon.

Though he assisted the opening goal for Egypt, Cameroon went on to win the game 2-1 which left him inconsolable.However, he vowed to overcome it, and later that year, they had a chance to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 28 years.

Egypt topped their world cup qualifying group to seal a playoff place against Congo and all responsibility was on Salah’s shoulders.

In the decisive leg, Salah opened the scoring but Congo equalsed in the dying minutes, ‘I could hardly comprehend what I saw, I just could not comprehend that we could not qualify.I was totally crushed,” Salah said when quizzed about the situation.

“ I fell to the floor but as soon as I hit the ground, I realised my teammates could not see me like that, so I forced myself back up.

“But even as I did, I was burning inside.  I would say that was probably the hardest moment of my life."

 The home side, though, won a 95th minute penalty which Salah converted to secure the trip to Russia – Egypt's first appearance at the finals since 1990 in Italy.

“It was a special moment for all but to qualify in that manner, the world’s greatest runners would struggle to come up with an ending like that.

After that, he went on to break every record possible, sweeping all English awards after scoring a record 32 Premier League goals and scoring 11 goals in the Champions League campaign as Liverpool reached the finals against Real Madrid.

However, Salah unfortunately  injured his left shoulder in the 30th minute after a challenge by Sergio Ramos.After initially carrying on, he left the field in tears after going to ground again. It was made worse by the fact that they lost 3-1, and there was more concern that he would miss the World Cup.

This made Egyptian fans livid and for the first time in years, united in support for their son and full of loathing for Ramos  as they accused the defende of deliberately injuring Salah in the match. Even one newspaper deemed Ramos as a “public enemy number one” while another claimed that its people “would never forgive” him.

A lawyer even sued him for a billion dollars citing “physical and psychological harm” to the nation of Egypt.

Amar Ali Hassan, a novelist and social science researcher, believes many of Egypt’s youths see in Salah’s success story a measure of compensation for their perceived failure to realize the goals — bread, freedom and social justice — of a stunning 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

He said that “Mohamed Salah proves Egyptians, when given the opportunity and right context, can be both successful and creative.”

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