CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt coach Javier Aguirre refused to discuss the potential influence of talisman Mohamed Salah but captain Ahmed Elmohamady had no such reservations two days before the start of the African Cup of Nations.
“Mohamed Salah is a player in my team, just like the remaining 22 players,” Aguirre told a news conference on Wednesday when questioned about the Liverpool forward as the host nation continued preparations for Friday’s opening game against Zimbabwe in Cairo.
“All of them are Egypt’s players,” he added, deflecting attention from the 27-year-old Salah who has been a significant influence on the side in recent years.
His goals helped Egypt end a 28-year wait to qualify for the World Cup in 2018 and he was the key player as they reached the final of last Cup of Nations in Gabon two years ago.
When Salah was hurt in last year’s Champions League final against Real Madrid and missed most of Egypt’s pre-World Cup preparations, plus their opening game in Russia, the team’s prospects sank like a stone.
“Salah is now one of the leading three players in the world. This is a very big and positive thing that will definitely help us in our quest to win the Nations Cup,” Elmohamady said.
Egypt will be returning to the Cairo International Stadium which has rarely been used over the last eight years because of security concerns but was the venue where they won the Cup of Nations when they last hosted the tournament 13 years ago.
“We are going back to playing at the Cairo Stadium, this is an incentive. We have already won the title in three consecutive editions, and in the last tournament, we reached the final,” Elmohamady said.
The 31-year-old Aston Villa full back featured in the Egypt’s Cup of Nations winning squads in 2008 and 2010 and was in the team who finished runners-up in the last edition of the tournament.
Aguirre said the hosts were wary of outsiders Zimbabwe.
“Zimbabwe deserve to be here in this tournament. We are well aware how strong they are,” Aguirre said.
“This game is very important because it’s the opener. However, this will not put us under pressure but rather make us aware of the responsibilities on our shoulders.”
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Ed Osmond)