With hands on hips, shoulders slightly slumped, eyes wide shut, he looked into an emptiness from the middle of the stadium. As if time just froze with the long whistle from the referee. And the king was just defeated.
His silent dejection amid Russia's raucous celebration told it all. Affectionately called King of Egypt, Mohamed Salah could not live up to the expectations of 100 million people back home. He was instrumental in Egypt's qualification to the World Cup after 30 years, but was not fit enough to fight it out in the finals. Rank outsiders Russia conquered the Pharaohs 3-1, and were all but through to the round of 16 from Group A, which also includes Uruguay and Saudi Arabia. With three points in hand and two matches to go, Uruguay look certain to advance into the next phase from the group.
It was also the first match in this WorldCup that possibly sealed goodbye to the world's most talked-about footballer at the moment. The last group league match against Saudi Arabia will just be a formality for the 25-year-old genius, whose name is now being mentioned in the same breath as Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo. He became the livewire for Liverpool soon after joining last season, scoring an astonishing 43 goals and leading the Red Devils to their first Premier League trophy in a decade.
Salah was expected to be one of this World Cup's biggest stars as he already bagged three prestigious awards -- Africa's top footballer, Players' Player of the Year and Football Writer's Association's Player of the Year. So, this early exit hurts. And, for sure, Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid will be blamed for this debacle. Ramos became Egypt's enemy number one when the Real Madrid captain played a big part in getting his left shoulder injured during the Champions League final.
The whole of Egypt was praying as Salah raced against time to recover in three weeks. He missed team trainings, sat out the first match against Uruguay and was not irresistible enough against the hosts. Ramos will certainly be cursed, not if Uruguay loses their next two matches.The slimmest hope for Salah flickers still!
The Egyptian heartbreak apart, two other games on Tuesday brought big cheers for Asia and Africa for the first time in the tournament! And it all happened Tuesday in Group H of the World Cup.
Japan caused a major upset when they beat Colombia 2-1. However, Colombia's defender Carlos Sanchez probably sealed the fate of his country when he deliberately and absolutely unnecessarily hand-balled an incoming shot only minutes into the match. Despite the presence of stars like James Rodriguez and Radmel Falcao, Colombia could not recover from a penalty and red card. Japan dominated the 10-man Colombia to become the first Asian country to beat a Latin football power.
Senegal, on the other hand, revived the African magic that footballs buffs first witnessed 16 years back with the rise of Cameroon. Senegal played power football throughout the match to beat their Poland 2-1.
We will have to wait for a few matches more to confirm whether teams representing Asia and Africa build on their success and move to the next phase.
The writer is former Sports Editor of The Daily Star
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