Egypt captain Salah leads African stars into World Cup qualifying


Mohamed Salah of Liverpool celebrates scoring during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brentford FC at Anfield on November 12, 2023 in Liverpool, England. 

Prolific Liverpool scorer and Egypt captain Mohamed Salah will be among the stars in action this week when 2026 World Cup qualifying in Africa kicks off with two matchdays. 

His two Premier League goals against Brentford at the weekend raised his total to 200 in English football, and he is now set to shine against Group A rivals Djibouti and Sierra Leone. 

Salah was the second highest ranked African in the Ballon d’Or last month behind Napoli and Nigeria forward Victor Osimhen, who misses the first matchdays due to an injury. 

Omar Marmoush of Eintracht Frankfurt and Mostafa Mohamed of Nantes are other Egyptians who have been scoring regularly in major European leagues this season.

Djibouti, who face Egypt in Cairo on Thursday, are among the weakest African national teams and have twice suffered eight-goal hidings in World Cup qualifiers.

Sierra Leone will be handicapped at having to stage a home fixture against Egypt on Sunday in Liberia because they lack an international-standard stadium.

Egypt have won the Africa Cup of Nations a record seven times, but struggle in World Cup qualifying, reaching the finals only three times, compared with eight appearances by Cameroon.

The strongest challenge to Salah and his teammates could come from Burkina Faso, ranked 10th in Africa, five places below Egypt. Guinea-Bissau and Ethiopia are the other Group A contenders. 

Nigeria must do without Osimhen, one of the favourites to win the CAF Footballer of the Year award next month, and injured AC Milan winger Samuel Chukwueze against Lesotho and Zimbabwe. 

But Portuguese coach Jose Peseiro has many talented replacements to choose from, including Victor Boniface of Bayer Leverkusen and Taiwo Awoniyi of Nottingham Forest.  

There are concerns, however, about the Super Eagles’ defence with Cyprus-based goalkeeper Francis Uzoho coming under fire for his performances in two recent friendly matches.

Zimbabwe are back in international football after a FIFA ban for government interference prevented them competing in 2024 Cup of Nations qualifying.

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