Mohamed Salah will walk out onto the pitch on Thursday with a single task in mind … edging out Ghana in their Africa Cup of Nations group game and helping Egypt to atone for a slow start in their opening fixture of the tournament against Mozambique on Sunday.
The Pharaohs captain again proved the talisman for his country as he converted a stoppage time penalty to see Egypt escape with a draw and avoid one of the great Cup of Nations upsets.
Now they face a desperate Black Stars in Abidjan with a chance to make sure of advancing if they can win.
For the 31-year-old Salah it will also push him closer to the milestone of 100 caps for his country, which he can achieve if Egypt go all the way.
Thursday’s clash will be a 96th appearance for Egypt for Salah, who made his debut in 2011 just two months after his 19th birthday.
Former Egypt captain Hany Ramzy quickly spotted the potential of the teenager from Nagrig, who was then still on the books of Arab Contractors, and used him initially in the 2012 Cup of Nations qualifiers.
Since then, Salah has gone onto write his name among a legendary list of Egyptian greats, although with a different profile as he has emerged the country’s first iconic international star.
While other legends like former African Footballers of the Year Mahmou Al Khatib, Hossam Hassan and Mohamed Aboutrika all garnered their glory in Egypt, African club competition and the Cup of Nations, Salah has gone much further with Champions League success in Europe and a Premier League title at Liverpool after spells at Young Boys Berne in Switzerland, Chelsea in England and Roma in Serie A.
But unlike the others, Salah has yet to taste national team success and while his international career is far from finished, he is also running out of competitions in which to do so.
This Cup of Nations in the Ivory Coast presents him with the perfect chance to gain some glory with Egypt and he will be motivated by the bitter disappointment of the last three editions. He was in the Egypt side that lost to Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions in the 2017 final in Libreville, Gabon.
In 2019, Egypt were beaten in the last 16 to a counterattack goal from South Africa’s Thembinkosi Lorch and in 2021 the seven-time winners reached the final but were pipped on post-match penalties by a Senegal side for whom Salah’s Liverpool teammate Sadio Mane thrashed home the winning kick.
Egypt did not qualify for three successive tournaments between 2012 and 2015, so this is only Salah’s fourth Cup of Nations but he has played 18 games at the finals already and scored seven goals.
Egypt would need to get to the semifinals, a total of six matches minimum in the Ivory Coast, for Salah to get reach 100 caps so he has double motivation for the tournament.
Salah’s international career statistics are extraordinary given that he has started 91 of his 95 matches, only being substituted four times.
At the last Cup of Nations finals two years ago, he was on the field for every minute of the seven games that Egypt played in the tournament in Cameroon. All four of Egypt’s matches in the knockout phase went to extra time.
Ahead of Thursday’s game against Ghana, Salah is on a run of scoring in three successive matches with a goal in November against Sierra Leone in the 2026 World Cup qualifiers, in the friendly win over Tanzania before heading to Abidjan and then the match against Mozambique on Sunday, where Egypt were 2-1 down until deep in stoppage time but won a penalty, after a VAR review, for Salah to bail them out.
In 2018, Salah had a sequence of five successive matches with a goal and his overall tally for his country is 53. It puts him second on the all-time list for the Pharaohs, 15 goals behind Hossam Hassan.
Ahmed Hassan holds the record for Egyptian caps with 184 which used to be a world record until Cristiano Ronaldo passed it.