Egypt and Congo at the Borg el-Arab stadium in Alexandria on October 8, 2017 (AFP)
Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah said the equaliser Egypt had conceded in a pivotal World Cup qualifying clash last year was the most difficult moment of his entire life.
Needing a home win to end a 28-year wait for a World Cup appearance last October, Egypt looked to have put the result to bed when Salah ended Congo’s resistance with a delicate finish on 63 minutes.
But Congo stunned a shell-shocked crowd at the packed Borg El-Arab Stadium in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria when Arnold Bouka scored on the half-volley with three minutes remaining to level the score.
Egypt were then awarded a stoppage-time penalty when midfielder Mahmoud Trezeguet was hauled down in the area, sending the fans into raptures even before Salah stepped up to take the spot-kick.
He showed nerves of steel to send the keeper the wrong way and lift the Pharaohs to their first World Cup finals since the 1990 edition in Italy, earning a cult status in the football-mad country in the process.
“The moments after Congo equalised were the most difficult in my entire life. This is the first time I say that,” Salah said in an interview with Egyptian satellite channel ON E, which was broadcast on Friday.
“We were getting ready to celebrate (our qualification). I had nothing else in my mind.
“When we were awarded the penalty, I saw nothing but people celebrating. In a training session the previous day, I had three similar penalties saved by (Egypt goalkeeper) Essam El-Hadary but I had no doubts that I would score it against Congo,” he added.
Egypt were drawn in Group A of the World Cup along with hosts Russia, South American powerhouses Uruguay and Arab Gulf side Saudi Arabia.
Salah said he does not agree with the notion that Egypt would not be able to qualify for the knockout round on their third World Cup appearance.
“Some people are saying that we will go there, play three matches and return home. But I believe we can make a great achievement,” he said.
“People are pessimistic; they keep saying we should be realistic. But I do not agree, I believe we can do greater things.”
Salah has taken the Premier League by storm since his summer arrival at Liverpool from Italy’s AS Roma, producing a series of jaw-dropping displays that had many wondering whether he can compete with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi for the World Player of the Year award.
The 25-year-old netted a staggering 43 goals in 50 appearances in all competitions, including 31 in the Premier League as he closes on becoming the competition’s top scorer.
Despite his exploits, Salah is aware that he needs to be consistent for years if he is to be compared with the world’s greats.
“Those are two great players,” Salah said, referring to Barcelona wizard Messi and Real Madrid’s prolific striker Ronaldo.
“They have been on the top for 10 and 11 years … I need to be on the same top level for years, this is natural.”
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