Mohamed Salah has achieved "nothing" with Egypt and the Liverpool star must raise his level when featuring for the national team, according to former Pharaohs coach Hassan Shehata.

In response, Egypt's former sports and youth minister Khaled Abdel Aziz defended the forward, calling him a wonderful ambassador and unifying figure for the country.

Salah scored 31 goals and provided 15 assists across all competitions for Liverpool as they won the EFL and FA Cups last season, also finishing as runners-up in the Premier League and Champions League.

But the forward experienced a more frustrating campaign on the international front, as Egypt lost the Africa Cup of Nations final on penalties to Senegal in February and suffered the same fate in March's crucial World Cup qualification play-off – with Salah missing from the spot in the latter contest.

Those disappointing results have led Shehata, who coached Egypt from 2004 to 2011 and won consecutive Africa Cup of Nations titles in 2006, 2008, and 2010, to call for improvements from Salah.

"We all know that Salah is one of the stars of the world and not just one of the stars of Egypt," he told Sada al-Balad. "The awards he took and the goals he scored give him the right to be the top star.

"But technically, and I'm sorry to say this, Salah has done nothing with the national team. He should have done much better than he has. He must provide more when he plays for his country."

However, Shehata did admit Salah was playing with inferior players when joining up with the national team, and said it was up to coaches to get the best from the 30-year-old after Egypt put in a series of dull displays at this year's Cup of Nations.

"It's true [that there is a difference in quality compared to Liverpool]," Shehata said. "He should have said this to the officials here - although he is not the one who chooses the players - but he should've said that the players here are not like the players in England."

Shehata's criticisms have not gone unnoticed in Egypt, with the country's former sports minister Aziz defending Salah's role on and off the pitch.

"Mohamed Salah was one of the most important soft forces that returned life in Egypt to normal after the [2013] June 30 revolution," he wrote on Twitter, alongside an image of himself with the Liverpool star.

"He was a wonderful global ambassador for his country in a difficult political period and led the national team to the World Cup after 28 years [in 2018].

"And despite the suspension of the league [after deaths occurred amid stadium violence in 2015] and then the league of the two groups, he led the team to the final of Africa [Cup of Nations] 2017 after three consecutive times we did not qualify at all."

Egypt are seeking their third head coach of the calendar year after sacking Ehab Galal after only three games at the helm last week, just two months on from Carlos Queiroz quitting the role.

Egypt's team doctor has stated Mohamed Salah was still suffering with an injury when he played for Liverpool in the Champions League final.

Liverpool talisman Salah suffered an adductor injury in the FA Cup final win over Chelsea on May 14, and was unavailable for the Reds' next Premier League fixture.

The forward came off the bench to score in a 3-1 win over Wolves on the final day before playing the full match against Real Madrid in Paris on May 28, though he was unable to inspire Liverpool to a seventh European crown as Vinicius Junior's second-half goal gave Los Blancos a 1-0 victory.

Salah then captained Egypt in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Guinea on June 5.

After that match, Egypt coach Ehab Galal claimed Liverpool had asked Salah to have an X-ray prior to featuring for his country, but he refused.

Egypt's team doctor Mohamed Abou El Ela said Salah, who turned 30 on Wednesday, had stated Galal had to prioritise the Guinea match for the skipper to feature in due to the injury he was carrying.

"Salah's injury occurred during the FA Cup final in the adductor muscles, then he played against Wolves and in the Champions League final, and all of this in just 14 days," he told On Time Sports.

"We send and receive players with medical reports, and Liverpool's said that he had pain and should get an X-ray, there's not a 100 per cent fit player, but there's the question of whether he can push himself and play without risk.

"The club thought that one game is enough and we chose the Guinea game because the second against Ethiopia would be hard for him to travel in a long flight. He couldn't play another game after three days."

Across all competitions, Salah played 4,013 minutes for Liverpool in the 2021-22 season – the fourth-highest total in Jurgen Klopp's squad, behind Alisson (4,890), Virgil van Dijk (4,620) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (4,233).

Of his 51 appearances, 45 were starts, with Salah scoring 31 goals and providing 15 assists as Liverpool won the FA Cup and EFL Cup and finished second in the Premier League along with their run to the Champions League final.

Egypt manager Ehab Galal claimed Liverpool star Mohamed Salah played through an injury during his country's 1-0 win against Guinea on Sunday.

Salah played the whole of the Africa Cup of Nations qualifier, which saw The Pharaohs win with a late Mostafa Mohamed strike.

Galal said after his first game in charge of Egypt since taking over from Carlos Queiroz that Liverpool asked for Salah to have an x-ray beforehand, but the player refused.

"Salah was suffering from an injury and played through it," Galal said, according to KingFut. "He rejected Liverpool’s request for an x-ray before the game and will now undergo it."

Egypt play away to Ethiopia on Thursday in another AFCON qualifier, before a friendly next Tuesday against South Korea.

Salah had a productive season for Liverpool, jointly winning the Premier League's golden boot with Son Heung-min of Tottenham on 23 goals, while also claiming the Football Writers' Association and PFA Fans' Player of the Year awards.

He also won the EFL Cup and FA Cup with the Reds, though Jurgen Klopp's side narrowly missed out on the Premier League title to Manchester City before losing the Champions League final to Real Madrid.

Salah - who also recorded the most assists in the Premier League during the campaign with 13 - is out of contract at the end of next season, and has been linked with a free transfer to Barcelona should he be unable to agree a new deal at Anfield.

FIFA have ordered the Senegalese Football Federation to play a competitive match behind closed doors and fined them $180,000 after a series of incidents in March's World Cup qualifier against Egypt, including the use of laser pens to target Liverpool star Mohamed Salah.

After Egypt and Senegal each claimed 1-0 home wins in their two-legged play-off for World Cup qualification, Salah was targeted by a number of laser pens as he missed his penalty in the decisive shoot-out in Dakar, which Senegal went on to win.

Egypt lodged a complaint after their defeat, which came little over a month after the Pharaohs had lost the Africa Cup of Nations final on penalties to the same opponents, also claiming Salah was subject to racist abuse and their team bus targeted by missiles before the game.

Just as he did in February's Africa Cup of Nations final, Salah's Liverpool team-mate Sadio Mane netted the winning spot-kick to hand Senegal a place at the Qatar World Cup.

Now, FIFA's disciplinary committee has punished the African champions for a series of offences, including a "failure to implement existing safety rules and failure to ensure that law and order are maintained in the stadium."

Senegal have also been punished for an "invasion of the field of play, throwing of objects, lighting of fireworks, use of laser pointers and use of objects to transmit a message that is not appropriate for a sports event."

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Football Federation have also been ordered to play a match behind closed doors, and received a fine of $154,000, after a pitch invasion that followed their away-goals elimination against Ghana in Abuja.

Senegal will be making their third appearance at the FIFA World Cup later this year, and will kick the tournament off when they face the Netherlands in Group A on November 21 – the first time since 1954 where the tournament's opening match doesn’t involve either the hosts or the defending champions.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp insisted star Mohamed Salah will finish the season strong after having his minutes managed in recent weeks.

Salah, who has 28 goals in 40 club appearances in all competitions this season, has only played a full 90 minutes once since Liverpool's home loss to Inter on March 8.

The Egyptian forward led his country to a runners-up finish in the African Cup of Nations in January, but has not scored for Liverpool from open play since February 23.

But Klopp is not worried about his star's production, highlighting the intensity of his recent schedule.

"I know that Mo will finish strong," he said. "It’s just at the moment we have to reset because each game for us is a final. From the beginning of January, that is crazy.

"The problem we have is that in January he had the most intense period in his whole career. The tournament went to the wire. 

"They played in the (Africa Cup of Nations) final, they had all these 120 minutes, the role he has is super, super massive. 

"There is a huge responsibility on his shoulders with dressing room meetings and stuff like this with no recovery at all."

Salah played all 90 minutes last time out against Manchester City, collecting an assist in the 2-2 draw.

Liverpool risk damaging their long-term transfer policy if they offer Mohamed Salah a bumper new contract.

That is according to former Reds goalkeeper David James, who also told Stats Perform that the frustration of missing out on the World Cup is having a detrimental effect on Salah.

Salah is into the final 16 months of his existing deal at Anfield and is reportedly holding out for fresh terms that could make him the highest-paid player in the Premier League.

The 29-year-old has 28 goals in all competitions this season, a tally bettered only by Real Madrid's Karim Benzema (37) and Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski (45) from Europe's top five leagues.

However, while Salah has once again proved his worth to Liverpool this campaign, James does not believe the club should bow to the Egypt forward's alleged wage demands.

"Quite simply, Liverpool won't offer him a contract that is wrong for them. As they say, no one is bigger than the club," James said.

"If he feels he could get more [money] elsewhere, and that's what he wants, then he'll have to go somewhere else.

"That would be the best business Liverpool can do with regards to sticking to whatever their policy is, rather than changing it to cater for an individual and upsetting the model."

 Amid the ongoing questions over his future, Salah's form has dropped in recent weeks, the former Chelsea attacker having scored in just one of his last seven club games.

That coincides with double heartbreak at international level for Salah, with Egypt losing to Senegal in the Africa Cup of Nations final and last month's World Cup play-off.

Indeed, since returning from AFCON duty in February, Salah has averaged fewer goals (0.66 compared to 0.81) and fewer assists (0.16 compared to 0.45) per 90 minutes.

He is also creating fewer chances (1.97 compared to 2.07), all of which James puts down to Egypt's recent woes.

"There's been frustration because he's trying to score goals, rather than trying harder for the team," James added. "What I'd seen this season up to AFCON was Mo helping out.

"It was perfect harmony. But all of a sudden it was almost like 'I'm going away for a month, let me try and get my goals now because I can't score them when I'm away."

"That sort of frustration is more detrimental to his performance. With the negative experiences of the AFCON and World Cup, you start asking 'Where's the desperation?'

"Is there a desperation to his performances to try to make up for those other losses?"

Salah's struggles in front of goal over the past month have coincided with Luis Diaz's instant impact since arriving from Porto in the January transfer window.

Diaz has three goals and one assist in 13 appearances, providing Jurgen Klopp with even more depth in the final third of the field, where they also have Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota.

But James says that should come as no surprise given the impressive work of Liverpool's scouting department in recent times.

"I have to say, I didn't know a lot about him until he was rumoured to be going to Tottenham, so I did my homework on him," James said of Diaz.

"I was amazed at what a player he was. I'd like to think any Premier League club who plays against Diaz will know exactly what they are coming up against.

"But we shouldn't be surprised. One of the most impressive things about Liverpool is that Diaz isn't an exception – there's also Diogo Jota, Thiago [Alcantara], and so on.

"Players come into the team and look as though they have been there for years. That's all part of the system and environment. When players get an opportunity they just fit in.

"That is credit to Liverpool, who have allowed Diaz to fit in and feel part of the team in a short period of time. It's like he's been there all season."

Jurgen Klopp is confident Liverpool forwards Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane will deal with their international rivalry "in the right way" after Senegal beat Egypt to World Cup qualification.

The Reds boss also condemned fans for targeting Salah with laser pens as he skied Egypt's first spot-kick in their penalty shoot-out loss, with Senegal qualifying for Qatar after a 1-1 aggregate draw in the African play-offs.

Tuesday's defeat represents the second time this season that Salah has been bested by his club team-mate on spot-kicks after Senegal accomplished the same feat to win the Africa Cup of Nations in February.

Salah and Mane have hit a combined 32 Premier League goals this season, with the Egyptian scoring 20 and the Senegalese forward netting 12.

Speaking ahead of Saturday's Premier League clash with Watford, Klopp, while condemning the laser pens, expressed his pride for Mane's achievement and backed the duo to move on in the correct manner.

"I'm obviously really happy for Sadio that he could make it, and I'm obviously very disappointed for Mo," Klopp said.

"I don't think that the situation around the penalty and the laser was particularly cool, so I feel for him [Salah]. But I'm happy for Sadio as well, that's football. 

"It's different when two mates are in such a big game, playing against each other, but they are both top professionals, very emotional people as well, but I'm pretty sure they will deal with it in the right way. 

"There's no doubt about it, at the moment, Senegal are the best team in Africa, and Egypt did really well to take them twice to the wire, twice to a penalty shoot-out.

"Senegal have an extremely talented squad and Egypt did really well. I'm not sure they can see it like this exactly, but from my point of view they should.

"They got unlucky with the draw, against pretty much all other [African] teams, Egypt would have qualified for the World Cup."

No player has scored the opening goal in more different Premier League games this season than Mane (six), while Salah has scored the joint-most winning goals in the competition this term (also six).

Salah has now faced penalty heartache twice this calendar year with Egypt, but Klopp claims the 29-year-old's international disappointment will simply spur him on at club level. 

"There's no doubt about it, Mo wants to win everything he can," Klopp added. "That's why he was very disappointed about the fact they couldn't win the [AFCON] tournament or qualify for the World Cup.  

"That's different competitions, his desire will be bigger now, and he's a very smart person who sees the difference between all these things. 

"We didn't speak about it in detail, to be honest, but he knows that Senegal are a tough team. Mo was unlucky in moments, especially with the penalty shoot-out, but nobody has to worry about him."

Salah has been directly involved in 11 goals in just seven Premier League games against Watford, scoring nine and assisting two.

He averages a goal or assist every 57 minutes against the Hornets, the fourth-best ratio any player has against a club in Premier League history having played a minimum of 600 minutes against that opponent.

The qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup is all but over.

Some key matches still have to be played, with Wales yet to find out their fate as they wait to face the winner of Scotland's play-off with Ukraine, which has been postponed due to Russia's invasion of the country, while there are inter-confederation play-offs also to be decided.

In total, 28 nations have qualified already, and most of football's star names will be present.

That being said, while France's world champions will bid to defend their crown, Neymar will bring the Brazilian stardust, Lionel Messi will look to build on Argentina's Copa America triumph and Cristiano Ronaldo will feature at a record-equalling fifth tournament, some huge players - and indeed teams, in the case of Italy - will not be present in Qatar.

Stats Perform has looked at some of the star players who will be watching the tournament from home.

Mohamed Salah (Egypt)

Arguably the best player in the world this season, Salah will not be lighting up Qatar with any mazy runs or sensational strikes. Given the tournament is in the middle of next season, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp may secretly be pleased his talisman will not be risking injury or fatigue, but Salah – who blazed his penalty over in the decisive shoot-out against Senegal on Tuesday – will be a big miss.

 

James Rodriguez (Colombia)

A star of the 2014 World Cup, in which he won the golden boot, James Rodriguez scored Colombia's winner against Venezuela on Tuesday, yet Peru's victory over Paraguay meant the ex-Real Madrid playmaker and his team-mates will not appear in Qatar, where James currently plies his trade for Al-Rayyan.

Luis Diaz, who has made a flying start to life at Liverpool since joining from Porto in January, is another Colombian talent who will be watching on from the sidelines.

Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy)

The hero of Italy's Euro 2020 triumph with his saves in the penalty shoot-out victory over England last July, Donnarumma – one of Europe's best goalkeepers – will be watching on from afar along with the rest of Roberto Mancini's players. After his error in Paris Saint-Germain's capitulation against Madrid in the Champions League, March has been a sour month for the 23-year-old.

Georgio Chiellini (Italy)

While Donnarumma has time on his side to make it to the next World Cup, the same cannot be said for Giorgio Chiellini. The centre-back is 37 and will surely not be featuring at another major tournament for Italy now.

Defensive partner Leonardo Bonucci may also fall into that category, given he turns 35 in May, while 29-year-old playmaker Marco Verratti may also have seen his final chance of appearing at the World Cup for a second time dashed.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)

It was the battle of two of Europe's leading marksmen of the last decade on Tuesday, as Poland went head-to-head with Sweden, and it was Robert Lewandowski and Co. who came out on top, winning 2-0.

Bayern Munich star Lewandowski opened the scoring from the penalty spot, and though Ibrahimovic came on as a late substitute, he could not turn the tide in Sweden's favour. The Milan striker has suggested he wants to carry on playing for his country, but at 40, surely this was his last chance of appearing at a World Cup.

Erling Haaland (Norway)

Although Ibrahimovic may be approaching the tail-end of his career, Haaland is certainly not. Yet like the Swede, the Borussia Dortmund forward will not be playing in Qatar either.

Indeed, even if Norway had made it through their qualification group, it is uncertain as to whether or not the players would have chosen to boycott the tournament, having previously made their feelings on Qatar's human rights record clear. But they finished third in Group G anyway.

Arsenal playmaker Martin Odegaard is another bright Norweigian talent, though the Scandinavian nation may well fancy their chances heading towards Euro 2024 and the 2026 World Cup.

 

David Alaba (Austria)

Madrid defender Alaba could not inspire Austria to victory in their play-off clash with Wales, with Gareth Bale's double doing the damage. After a glittering career with Bayern, Alaba is on course to win LaLiga with Los Blancos, but any form of real, tangible success on the international stage looks set to avoid him.

Jan Oblak (Slovenia)

Oblak's form has dipped this season for Atletico Madrid but on his day he is still right up there among the world's best goalkeepers, though he could not help Slovenia finish higher than fourth in their qualification group, as their wait to qualify for a first World Cup since 2010 rolled on.

Sadio Mane is proud to have helped Senegal overcome Egypt and qualify for the World Cup and says he was "luckier" to get the better of Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah.

Senegal beat Egypt on penalties in Tuesday's qualifying play-off in Dakar after winning 1-0 on the day to level the tie at 1-1 on aggregate.

Mane sunk the decisive spot-kick in a shoot-out overshadowed by the Egypt players – including Salah, who missed the opening kick – being targeted by lasers from the stands.

Senegal's triumph comes seven weeks on from beating the same opponents – again on penalties – in the Africa Cup of Nations final.

While happy at getting the better of Liverpool colleague Salah, Mane accepts the outcome of both games could have been a lot different.

"I won twice and he lost twice. I was luckier to come out on top," Mane told OnTime Sports.

"I am very proud that we won the Africa Cup of Nations and now qualified for the World Cup, it's a dream I had.

"It was a difficult game for both teams. Our fans pushed us to win and we didn't stop fighting. We knew the game wouldn't be easy but we pressed to score."

Senegal join Ghana, Tunisia, Morocco and Cameroon as Africa's representatives at Qatar 2022, with Nigeria, Mali, DR Congo and Algeria falling at the final hurdle.

Mane and Salah could reunite on the pitch next weekend, meanwhile, when Liverpool return to Premier League action against Watford.

Virgil van Dijk has backed Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah to "turn disappointment into success" after Egypt failed to qualify for this year's World Cup.

Salah, who had lasers directed at him from the crowd as he lined up his spot-kick, blazed over in the penalty shoot-out on Tuesday as it was Senegal – spearheaded by fellow Liverpool star Sadio Mane – who booked their spot in Qatar following a 1-1 aggregate draw across two legs.

It was the second time this year that Salah and Egypt have suffered shoot-out agony against Senegal, who triumphed in the same way in the Africa Cup of Nations final.

Salah has been one of the standout players in European football this season, yet will not get the chance to show his quality on the biggest international stage.

While Van Dijk is disappointed for Liverpool's talisman, he is confident the forward will use Egypt's failure to spur the Reds on to more success this season, with a quadruple still on the cards for Jurgen Klopp's team.

 

"Well obviously, I feel sorry for Mo and for Egypt, but football is sometimes like this," Van Dijk told reporters after featuring in the Netherlands' 1-1 friendly draw with Germany.

"I am sure he will turn the disappointment into success for the rest of the season.

"We still have everything to play for so there is a lot of things still to achieve for him."

While Salah will return to Liverpool disappointed, Mane will come back knowing he is set to lead Senegal, who exited in the group stage in Russia in 2018.

Van Dijk was thrilled for Mane, but could not resist firing a warning shot his team-mate's way.

"As for Sadio, I wish him all the best and if he is in our group, he is going to need that good luck," the defender added.

Egypt complained they suffered a bus attack and alleged Mohamed Salah faced racist abuse before their chaotic World Cup play-off defeat in Senegal.

The protest came before kick-off at Stade Abdoulaye Wade, where Senegal avenged a 1-0 first-leg defeat with victory by the same margin, before winning a controversial penalty shoot-out.

When it came down to spot-kicks, Egypt's players had lasers pointed towards them by home fans, a likely distraction as three visiting players, including Liverpool's Mohamed Salah, failed to convert.

That allowed Senegal to win 3-1 in the shoot-out, with Salah's club-mate Sadio Mane netting the winning strike.

It had been a challenging day for Egypt even before the game began, with pictures posted by their national football association indicating the team bus had been struck by missiles on its way to the stadium, which is situated a short distance outside Dakar.

One window was shattered, while evidence posted on social media by Egyptian authorities showed an apparently cracked windscreen and a rock that had been thrown into the vehicle.

The Egyptian FA (EFA) also posted a picture from inside the stadium of a banner reading "F*** YOU SALAH".

The EFA said in a statement: "Egypt files an official complaint against Senegal due to the attack and the racist banners.

"The Egyptian team was subjected to racism after offensive banners appeared in the stadium stands for the players, specifically Mohamed Salah, the team leader. This was documented with pictures and videos that were attached to the complaint."

Egyptian media said the complaint had been filed to CAF – the African confederation – and world governing body FIFA.

Furious Nigeria supporters stormed the pitch at the National Stadium in Lagos after rivals Ghana sealed a World Cup spot at the expense of the Super Eagles.

Arsenal's Thomas Partey opened the scoring in the 10th minute for Ghana, before William Troost-Ekong levelled from the penalty spot for the hosts midway through the first half.

Nigeria could not find a crucial second goal, however, with Otto Addo's Ghana side holding on for the 1-1 draw, to progress to Qatar 2022 via away goals after a 0-0 draw in the first leg.

The result sparked ugly scenes inside the stadium, with videos on social media showing supporters leaving their seats and smashing equipment at the side of the pitch.

There was heartbreak for Mohamed Salah and Egypt after they suffered another dramatic penalty shoot-out defeat to Senegal.

Hosts Senegan recovered from a 1-0 first-leg deficit to beat Egypt by the same margin at the Abdoulaye Wade Stadium, before Salah, with dozens of laser pens seemingly pointing at his face, fired Egypt's first penalty of the shoot-out over the bar.

Mostafa Mohamed later failed with the visitors' fourth kick, allowing Salah’s Liverpool team-mate Sadio Mane to slam his penalty past Mohamed El Shenawy and seal Senegal's progress, in a repeat of February's Africa Cup of Nations final triumph.

"We try our best but today was not enough," he wrote. "To all my players and my staff, [I give] my recognition and humble thank you.

"You will be always in my heart. It was my privilege to work and be helped by such dedicated and capable professionals and wonderful friends."

There was stunning late drama in Bilda as Karl Toko Ekambi scored late in extra time to seal a 2-1 win for visitors Cameroon against Algeria, the Indomitable Lions progressing to Qatar via away goals after a 2-2 aggregate draw.

Algeria thought they had sealed a place at the World Cup when Ahmed Touba cancelled out Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting's opener with two minutes remaining in extra time, but there was just enough time left for Ekambi to seal the most dramatic of victories.

Morocco also booked their place in Friday's World Cup draw with an emphatic 4-1 win over Democratic Republic of Congo. A brace from Azzedine Ounahi, as well as goals from Tarik Tissoudali and Achraf Hakimi, sealed a 5-2 aggregate win over DR Congo, who scored a late consolation through Ben Malango.

Meanwhile, a 0-0 draw for Tunisia against Mali was enough to see the former seal their own place in Qatar after they managed a 1-0 win in the first leg.

Sadio Mane fired Senegal to the World Cup as Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah suffered penalty shoot-out agony with Egypt after being targeted with lasers by fans.

Senegal recovered from a 1-0 first-leg deficit to land victory by the same margin at the Abdoulaye Wade Stadium on Tuesday.

That meant the play-off, tied at 1-1 after 120 minutes of the second leg, went down to a battle of spot-kicks to decide who would go to Qatar 2022, and Salah missed Egypt's first penalty when he fired over the bar.

Lasers flashed across the pitch and were directed at Egypt's star man, who could not find the focus to convert from 12 yards.

The first four penalties were missed, with Salah's the second of those, before both sides netted their third kicks.

Egypt's Mostafa Mohamed failed with the visitors' fourth penalty, seeing his shot blocked, and that allowed Mane to step up and crack a fierce spot-kick past Mohamed El Shenawy, booking a place in Friday's draw.

Will it be Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane? Italy or Portugal – or indeed neither? Can Canada end their long wait, and are the United States and Australia at risk of missing out?

Those questions and plenty more are set to be answered over the next week or so as World Cup qualifying concludes for many nations.

Just 15 of the 32 participants have so far been confirmed for Qatar 2022, leaving 48 teams battling for the 17 remaining spots.

Fourteen more countries will be assured of a finals berth come the end of next week in what is very much crunch time for those still in contention.

Stats Perform looks at the key talking points.

Egypt seeking revenge in AFCON final repeat

Less than two months on from meeting in the Africa Cup of Nations final, Egypt and Senegal face off over two legs for a place in Qatar.

Senegal prevailed in a penalty shoot-out to claim their first AFCON crown and, buoyed by that triumph, will consider themselves as favourites here.

While both teams boast an array of top-class talent, this fixture is being billed as a showdown between Liverpool team-mates Salah and Mane.

The two biggest stars in African football, only one of the pair will be part of the World Cup later this year – and neither will fancy watching it all unfold from home.

This is not the only grudge match taking place in the CAF section over the next week and a half, as fierce rivals Ghana and Nigeria will also face off in a two-legged play-off.

Cameroon are up against Algeria, Mali take on Tunisia and DR Congo meet Morocco in the other three ties, each of which will be concluded on March 29.

European heavyweights on collision course

Since the play-off draw in the UEFA section took place in November, all talk has centered around a potential meeting between Italy and Portugal for a place in the finals.

The winners of the past two European Championships, either the Azzurri or the Selecao will miss out on the biggest tournament of them all.

It should never have been this way, of course, as both teams were strong favourites to finish top of their groups and qualify automatically.

Italy finished second to Switzerland and Portugal were runners-up to Serbia, meaning the sides must now come through two qualifying ties.

First up for the reigning European champions is a meeting with North Macedonia in Palermo, while Portugal face Turkey in Porto, with the winners of both ties advancing.

Should, as expected, Italy and Portugal come through those semi-finals, the latter will have the advantage of staging the final on home soil five days later.

For Portugal skipper Cristiano Ronaldo, it presents what will surely be his last chance to play at a record-equalling fifth World Cup.

 

Pathways impacted by political events

Path C of UEFA qualifying is undoubtedly the most eye-catching, but there are also some tasty fixtures in the other two sections – not least a possible Home Nations derby.

Scotland and Wales were kept apart in the Path B semi-finals but could meet in the final should they overcome Ukraine and Austria respectively.

However, due to ongoing events in Ukraine, their game against Scotland has been pushed back – likely until June – as has the final involving either Wales or Austria.

In Path C, Russia had been due to face Poland, but the invasion of Ukraine forced FIFA and UEFA's hand and they have been banned from competing.

Poland have therefore been handed a bye to the qualifying play-off final, where either Sweden or the Czech Republic await. That match will be contested next week as planned.

Canada on verge of ending long wait, USA with work to do

The United States qualified for every World Cup between 1990 and 2014, but they missed out on a place at Russia 2018 after an embarrassing loss to Trinidad and Tobago.

Gregg Berhalter's side are by no means assured of one of the three automatic qualification spots in the CONCACAF section this time around, either.

USA sit second with three games to go, but they still have to travel to third-placed Mexico, as well as facing Panama and Costa Rica, who occupy fourth and fifth respectively.

Level on points with Mexico and four ahead of Costa Rica, it could be a tense finale to qualifying for the Stars and Stripes.

That should not be the case for Canada, who are eight points clear of fourth and are all but assured of ending their 36-year wait to make a second World Cup finals appearance.

Brazil and Argentina through, but who will join them?

The drawn-out South American qualifiers are nearing their conclusion and only four of the 10 sides know their fate at this juncture.

It has been plain sailing for Brazil and Argentina, who are assured of an automatic qualifying spot with three games to go, including a rescheduled meeting between the pair.

Behind those perennial World Cup representatives are Ecuador, who have been the surprise package in qualifying and can finish no lower than fifth.

Ecuador will not be content with anything other than a top-four finish, though, and they can make certain of that with victory over Paraguay.

Assuming Ecuador get over the line, that will leave Uruguay, Peru, Chile, Colombia and Bolivia battling it out for progression, which sets up some intriguing fixtures.

Uruguay occupy fourth place, meaning their qualifying aspirations are in their own hands, but they have Peru and Chile – the two sides behind them – still to face.

Socceroos sweating on finals spot

Only four teams advance automatically from the CONMEBOL section, with the team in fifth entering a play-off against the winner of the AFC fourth round in a one-off tie in June.

That may well turn out to be Australia as the Socceroos are five and four points behind top two Saudi Arabia and Japan in Group B with two games to go.

However, those remaining two fixtures are against those nations occupying automatic qualification places, so Australia may yet sneak through.

Iran and South Korea have already made certain of progression in Group A, meanwhile, leaving the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Iraq to compete for third place.

The two third-placed finishers – which, as it stands, are Australia and the UAE – will meet in a one-legged match ahead of that aforementioned play-off with a CONMEBOL side.

Jurgen Klopp detailed Mohamed Salah's huge disappointment after returning to Liverpool following Egypt's Africa Cup of Nations final defeat, although the Reds manager hopes he and the team can "benefit" from that pain.

Salah and Egypt were beaten on penalties by Senegal in Sunday's AFCON decider, with Liverpool team-mate Sadio Mane scoring the winning spot-kick.

While Mane is yet to return amid Senegal's celebrations – granted additional time to "just enjoy it, enjoy themselves" and then "come back as early as possible", likely late on Wednesday – Salah has already rejoined Liverpool.

The superstar winger should be in line to face Leicester City in the Premier League on Thursday, although he is visibly hurting from his international heartbreak.

"He's very disappointed, obviously," boss Klopp said on Wednesday. "It was a massive thing.

"Losing a final is always really, really hard – we can sing that song – but losing the way they lost it is especially hard. That's what he felt, as well.

"He's happy to be back, but he's disappointed as well – massively so. We spoke obviously, about the tournament, everything, and he will deal with that of course.

"I hope today will be already better, but yesterday everybody could see he still has the final on his mind."

Asked how Salah might respond to the setback as Liverpool still pursue four titles, Klopp replied: "Greater determination than Mo already had? I'm not sure that's human.

"Playing a tournament, not knowing where you'll go to, then qualifying in the hardest possible manner for the final, then against the tournament favourites playing a game like Egypt played, an absolutely great final, if you think about what they all invested already before – both teams – and how hard they fought – especially Egypt, how hard they fought to keep a team like Senegal quiet – yes, that all helps in the long term.

"But I don't think there's a lot of space for more determination in Mo's mind. He is very determined.

"Using these kinds of things is the job for all of us when you lose a final – we are obviously the best example for that.

"When you lose a final, it's really hard, really, really hard. But when you use it for the next big game or next big tournament, then it can be at least helpful when it was still hard.

"He will benefit from it, we will benefit from it, but in which [way] exactly, we do not know."

With Salah in the squad and Mane soon to join him, Klopp is close to having a full complement of players to choose from – although he did add captain Jordan Henderson has a back problem.

Liverpool will be aiming to end a run of two straight league defeats to Leicester, last losing three in a row in this fixture in 1963. No team have beaten Klopp's Reds more often in the top flight during his tenure (four – tied with Manchester City).

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