By Shrivathsa Sridhar
YEKATERINBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Mohamed Salah drew a roar every time his image was flashed on the big screen during Egypt’s 1-0 late World Cup loss to Uruguay but the talismanic striker stayed on the bench on Friday because his coach did not want to risk him.
Despite Hector Cuper declaring beforehand Salah would "100 percent" play a part in the Group A match at the Ekaterinburg Arena, the African Footballer of the Year was an unused substitute on his birthday.
Salah, who turned 26 on Friday, had been racing against time to recover from the ligament injury suffered in the Champions League final last month, when he went off early after falling on his shoulder as Liverpool lost to Real Madrid.
Cuper said doubt after Salah’s first game back crept in after Thursday’s training session at the match venue on the eve of Egypt’s first game at the finals since 1990.
“Yesterday we were certain he was alright. At the end of the training session we examined him and there was some doubt if he fell or was hit by another player, he might get hurt again and we wanted to avoid a risk today,” the coach explained.
Asked whether Salah might play in Egypt’s next game against hosts Russia in St Petersburg on Tuesday, Cuper added: “Let's first try to talk about the Uruguay match. Tomorrow we can start thinking about Russia. If we look at their opening match, they scored some important goals. As for Salah, it is probable that he will play. He didn't play because we wanted to avoid risks. He will be fine for the next match.”
Without the pace of the best player in the Premier League this season, Egypt offered little on the attack and eventually gave up a late goal to continue their winless World Cup finals record.
“Salah is an important player but we need to have a good team. If he had been on the pitch the result might have been different," Cuper said.
“I think we had what we had and tried to do our best,” he added of a Salah-less attack.
“We do have good forwards to do a good job. We didn’t finish well but did go on the offensive today. I'm happy with the team's efforts. I might have got the strategy wrong. It is a shame we lost after a set piece. The players have given their best and I have no complaints."
(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Nizhny Novgorod; Editing by Julien Pretot)