The World Cup is rarely a place for Liverpool heroes. Mohamed Salah is only the latest player from the club who is trying to make an indelible mark on football’s biggest stage. There have been many more who have tried and failed.
Salah was already going into the match between Egypt and Uruguay under the cloud of the troublesome shoulder injury he picked up in the Champions League final 20 days ago. Starting on the bench, Reds fans certainly hoped he would stay there, though how often will an Egyptian get to play in a World Cup? (It’s only the third time they’ve ever qualified.)
He remained on the bench for the entire game while an out-of-sorts Uruguay stumbled before finding a late winner, indicating he may still be far from full fitness. It was the kind of game that Egypt could easily have won with Salah in full flow.
Instead they conceded a very late goal when Salah was no longer available as a substitute anyway. It seemed a cruel defeat, but Liverpool fans have got used to their stars suffering at the World Cup. It’s being going on for years.
Liverpool’s first real involvement with the World Cup did end on a celebratory note, with striker Roger Hunt one of the famous England XI that secured his country’s only triumph in 1966.
Even then there was always an underlying sense of Hunt’s contribution never really being acknowledged by the rest of the country, largely because of an anonymous performance in the final itself.
By the time Kevin Keegan was the new Kop hero, England weren’t even qualifying for the tournament. Kenny Dalglish was then part of Scotland’s fiasco in 1978, mired in early overconfidence and a drugs scandal — then undermined by a 3-1 loss to Peru and a desultory draw against Iran.
He was considered too old to be taken to Mexico in 1986, and Scotland’s caretaker boss Alex Ferguson (later of Man United fame) also left Alan Hansen behind for good measure — a decision that still grates to this day.
The year of 1990 was a milestone for John Barnes, at club level anyway. Player of the Year in England and Anfield’s goal-laden hero, architect of yet another Liverpool title win, he could not reproduce it for England and was only a spectator as his national team came closer than it ever has to replicating 1966.
True, a teenage Michael Owen did make a big impact at France ’98, but he was almost an afterthought for England as Liverpool’s real star Robbie Fowler first suffered loss of form and then a 10-month long injury to miss the tournament altogether.
By the time Steven Gerrard was Liverpool’s main man he had already missed out on the 2002 tournament through injury. Then he missed a penalty in the shootout that eventually saw Portugal edge past England in 2006.
Gerrard’s contribution in South Africa four years later was equally lame; Fernando Torres did make it to that year’s final for Spain but it was only for the last 15 minutes after an injury-plagued domestic season.
The tale of woe carried on into 2014, when England were sent home from Brazil after two defeats, one of which was inflicted by Liverpool and Uruguay’s Luis Suarez. Daniel Sturridge watched from the other end of the pitch as his club striking partner scored the two goals that ended his own tournament.
At last the Merseyside club’s World Cup hoodoo had been overcome… or so people thought. In the very next match Suarez sank his teeth into Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder, triggering a four-month worldwide ban and criticism aplenty.
When that was over Suarez belonged to Barcelona; sold that summer. Liverpool supporters have begun to dread the World Cup. What on earth could possibly go wrong next?
No wonder Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson is rumoured to be rejecting Liverpool. The Roma stopper was probably afraid of scuppering his tournament before it had even begun.
A month-long battle with injury had already suggested Salah would extend Liverpool players’ impressively bad relationship with the World Cup. Egypt probably weren’t expecting miracles in their first World Cup since 1990, just hoping to do the country proud and give group favourites Uruguay and Russia a run for their money.
They and Saleh may still do this but it’s a tall order now, even before you take into account whether their star man can actually make a significant contribution or not.
It should be remembered that Liverpool have two more excellent forwards out in Russia: Brazil’s Roberto Firmino and Senegal’s Sadio Mane. Though Firmino won’t be happy that Brazil’s team for their opener has already been leaked, with his name not in the starting XI.
There is still plenty of time left in the tournament for at least one of the Anfield contingent to make a lasting, positive impression. They will however have to break a long, long precedent.
Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC’s Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.