SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - Sunday, June 17, 2018: Egypt's Mohamed Salah during the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 Group A match between Russia and Egypt at the Saint Petersburg Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Mo Salah’s importance to Egypt apparent even without scoring as Africa Cup of Nations kicks off

The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations got underway in Egypt last night—and the hosts beat Zimbabwe 1-0, with Liverpool forward Mo Salah playing all 90 minutes.

While not a candidate for best performance of the season from the Egyptian King by any stretch, the importance of the Reds’ No. 11 was utterly evident throughout.

An outlet for his team, the focal point for much of their build-up play and with more freedom to seek out possession than he has at club level, Salah must be part playmaker, part goal threat at the AFCON.

His 62 touches of the ball over the 90 minutes were more comparable with his midfield team-mates than the other attackers, and without really working himself a completely clear goalscoring chance he still had easily the most efforts on goal: seven shots in total, four on target. Nobody else on the pitch managed more than three shots, or two on goal.

Salah’s biggest chance to score came late on in the game, with a right-footed shot saved at the near post.

The 1-0 win was secured by Mahmoud Hassan, better known as Egypt’s Trezeguet, but Salah came close to assisting a second for his nation on a number of occasions.

With the three points secure against a tough opponent, Egypt will look toward Group A’s second match on Saturday and their other rivals, as Congo DR face Uganda (kick-off 3:30pm BST).

Cairo certainly put on an impressive show for the opening ceremony, and with the team then producing enough to start on a positive note, hopes are high for another win for the nation on home soil.

Assistant boss Hany Ramzy spoke after the game to acknowledge the team weren’t at their best, but a win was all-important in the competition opener—and to highlight why it was a team effort, not all about Salah every time.

“Admittedly, we didn’t look good today, but the most important thing for us was the start for a big tournament like this.

“But in the end we won 1-0 and starting with three points is the most important thing.

“For sure Salah has everything to determine a result on his own, but we don’t put all the responsibility on Salah.

“With his technique and his speed he can make all the difference, but we don’t put the entire burden on him as it is impossible to overstretch one player.”

Even without the goal he would have wanted, there was more than enough on show from Mo to suggest he’ll have a big impact on the tournament going forward and remain key to Egpyt’s hopes of winning the 2019 title.