“Lads, count down, …10/9/8/7/6/5/4/3/2/1 2022 World Cup Final Ignition,” tweeted Carlos Queiroz on Monday. “It took us a long and hard road to reach this deserved opportunity. We certainly know the challenge we face here. There is no room for sorrys or tomorrows.”
The Egypt coach who twice served as an assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United may not have won many friends with his defensive tactics in the Pharaohs’ run to February’s Africa Cup of Nations final. But 47 days after Egypt’s shootout defeat by Aliou Cissé’s Senegal in Yaoundé, the sides will come face-to-face again in Cairo on Friday for the first leg of a World Cup play-off. For Queiroz it is a revenge mission he has clearly been relishing.
“With courage, team-intelligent work and pride we can fly and nothing is impossible,” he wrote in his next tweet. “Once we have to do it, let’s do it with style and bravery, and make the ‘nothings’ possible.”
Fears for Queiroz that his team may have to navigate a way past the new African champions without Mohamed Salah, after the forward limped off during Liverpool’s win over Brighton last week, have dissipated despite Salah missing Sunday’s FA Cup tie against Nottingham Forest. Sadio Mané was also rested by Jürgen Klopp, leading to speculation that the Liverpool manager was trying not to hand either country an advantage in a tie he could probably have done without amid a quadruple-chasing campaign.
A distraught Salah had to be consoled by Mané in Yaoundé after watching on as his clubmate, who had missed a penalty in normal time, held his nerve to win the Afcon final shootout. Salah had been due to take Egypt’s fifth spot-kick.
Mané insisted last month that the pair “don’t even talk about” events in the Cameroonian capital or the upcoming qualifier, although he admitted they had discussed the comical scenes before his missed penalty in the final, when Salah appeared to be instructing the goalkeeper Mohamed Abou Gabal over which way to dive before Mané joined their conversation.
“Until now – you won’t believe me – but we haven’t talked about it, because I know he’s still disappointed for sure,” said Mané, who needs one goal to set a record for the Teranga Lions. “We have mentioned when I missed the penalty. He said: ‘Why did you come to see the goalkeeper?’ And I said: ‘Because you’ve been talking to him and I’m sure you will play mind games, so I will play mind games as well.’
“I saw him talking and I’m sure he was not saying anything much so it was fine to just say it was mind games and I want to be more fun than them, so I go: ‘Mo, I will put it in the right-side; tell him I will put it in the right side.’ We were talking about this and laughing about it – it was quite funny.”
Both sides failed to make it through the group stages at the last World Cup, with Salah not fully recovered from the shoulder injury sustained after clashing with Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos in the 2018 Champions League final. That was Egypt’s first appearance since 1990. Mané and Senegal were unlucky to miss out on a place in the last 16 because of an inferior disciplinary record in what was Africa’s worst showing at a finals since 1982.
Only one of the two Liverpool superstars can make it to Qatar, however, and Saer Seck, a former vice-president of the Senegalese FA and president of the renowned Diambars FC academy, is hoping Cissé’s men can make it a double celebration.
“It will be a very important match,” he tells the Guardian. “The Afcon trophy is for the pride of the people because we had never won it before. But qualifying for the World Cup is also about economics – it will give our FA the capacity to develop younger age groups in the country, so we can continue to build. And it would not make sense if we didn’t make it to the World Cup after winning the Afcon …”
Diambars, founded by Seck in 2003 with help from the now Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira, helped to produce several members of the current Senegal squad, including Paris Saint-Germain’s Idrissa Gueye. The country reached the quarter-finals of the Under-20 World Cup in 2019, and there are high hopes that this generation can build on their Afcon success at the biggest tournament of all.
“Senegal is a place where all the European clubs have been coming for many years now and this has made our links to Europe very strong,” Seck says. “When you have players like [Édouard] mendy, [Kalidou] Koulibaly and Mané, there is no reason to be afraid of anything.”
As for Vieira, Seck says the former France midfielder will be closely following events in Cairo and Tuesday’s return in Dakar.
“Patrick always has an eye on Senegal because he was born here and part of his heart is here. He is very involved with Diambars – I speak to him probably once a month and try to give him some news. But now he is really engaged with Crystal Palace so he doesn’t have so much time.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism