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Birthday news: Salah fit for Egypt’s next World Cup match

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ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — Mohamed Salah celebrated his 26th birthday with a Chechen cake and the news that he will play in Egypt’s next World Cup match.

A statement from the Egyptian soccer association gave no details about his fitness except that the Liverpool striker participated fully in training Saturday in Grozny, the team’s base in Russia’s Chechnya region.

Salah injured his left shoulder in the Champions League final last month, putting his World Cup in doubt. He was an unused substitute in Egypt’s 1-0 loss to Uruguay on Friday — his birthday.

“(His) condition is so much better,” Egypt executive director Ihab Leheta said Saturday. “He was very upset after the Uruguay game. He thought he could have played and made a contribution.”

Fans and Chechnya’s leadership tried to cheer him up, presenting Salah with a giant birthday cake.

Salah smiled as he sang “Happy Birthday” with his teammates, team officials and hotel staff, but the brief celebration was visibly subdued and not everyone joined in.

“We could have celebrated more,” Leheta said, alluding to the loss to Uruguay.

The brief celebration took place upon the team’s arrival back in their Grozny hotel after the flight from Yekaterinburg, where they played their opening match.

A video clip showed a cake coated in the colors of the Egyptian and Chechnya flags sitting on a table in the team’s hotel lobby.

Perched atop the cake was what appeared to be a replica of the golden boot won by Salah as the Premier League’s top scorer this season.

Egypt faces host Russia in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, and then takes on Saudi Arabia on June 25.

Uruguay stun Egypt with late winner

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Uruguay scored in the 89th minute to beat Egypt 1-0 in Ekaterinburg on Friday in their Group A opener.

La Celeste left it late but Jose Gimenez’s header in stoppage time broke Egypt’s hearts after a solid display from the Pharaohs without their superstar Mohamed Salah who was only fit enough to sit on the bench.

Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez missed a host of chances for Uruguay but their 2018 World Cup campaign is off and running with a win as they sit second in Group A behind hosts Russia.

Next up for Uruguay is a clash with Saudi Arabia on June 20 in Rostov-on-Don, while Egypt play hosts Russia in Saint Petersburg on June 19.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Both Cavani and Suarez went close to opening the scoring for Uruguay, while at the other end Trezeguet didn’t quite get hold of a decent opportunity.

A huge chance was then missed by Suarez as the ball found him at the back post from a corner and he somehow scuffed his shot into the ground and wrapped it up in the side-netting.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Early in the second half Cavani fed Suarez but El-Shenawy denied the latter as Uruguay looked to take the game to Egypt.

The game came to life in the latter stages as Egypt’s captain Ahmed Fathy drilled a shot from distance on goal which Fernando Muslera saved well. Then at the other end Cavani played in Suarez but as he rounded the goalkeeper Egypt’s El-Shenawy grabbed the ball.

Mohamed Elneny chipped over as the game opened up and Suarez then nodded the ball down to Cavani but his thunderous volley was palmed away by El-Shenawy.

Cavani then hit the post from a free kick as Egypt were desperately hanging on but eventually they cracked as a free kick from the right was headed home powerfully by Gimenez to secure the win for Uruguay in dramatic fashion.

Most popular World Cup jerseys in each state

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This is a pretty cool way to think about which players will be the most popular across the United States of America during the 2018 World Cup.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news

A map has been released by soccer kit supplied Soccer.com on the eve of the tournament and, with no USMNT this time around, the focus is on the players who are heading to Russia.

With that in mind, which jerseys have soccer fans in the USA been snapping up?

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

Below is a look at the most popular players by each U.S. state according to Soccer.com’s sales with Lionel Messi, Hirving Lozano, Neymar, Mesut Ozil, Andres Iniesta, Paul Pogba and Mohamed Salah dominating, plus a sprinkling of Antoine Griezmann and Javier Hernandez. Only Kansas and Ohio went with Ronaldo, which is surprising.

Other key takeaways: Harry Kane is big in Alaska and Nebraska and it’s a case of “Aloha, Sergio Ramos…”


Egypt expect Salah to be fit for Uruguay game

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It appears that Mohamed Salah‘s remarkable recovery from injury is complete.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news

With Egypt facing Uruguay in their Group A opener on Friday, Salah’s status was unknown until this point as he’d trained on his own and had recovery sessions in Spain after injuring his left shoulder in the UEFA Champions League final on May 26.

He was initially given a 3-4 week timeline to get back to full fitness but the Liverpool star appears set to play for Egypt in their first World Cup game since 1990. Whether that means he will come on as a sub or start the game remains to be seen but Salah has been taking a small part in training sessions in recent days.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

Egypt’s manager Hector Cuper spoke to the media ahead of the game and had the following to say.

“Salah is doing very well indeed, he’s recovered very quickly. We’ll see how it goes today,” Cuper said. “We can say almost 100% he will play, barring any unforeseen factors at the last moment.”

Great news for Egypt. And great news for the World Cup.

Salah is coming off the back of a record-breaking season in the Premier League as he scored 32 goals and led Liverpool to a top four finish as well as reaching the UEFA Champions League final.

His 44 goals in all competitions in his first season at Liverpool took everyone by surprise but he’s now a hero in his homeland and he has rushed back to lead the Pharaohs.

Top 2018 World Cup storylines

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One more rest. One more sleep. One more moon.

Then the 2018 World Cup is upon us.

So what are we looking for? What are the storylines that will shape how we view the play on the field? There will surely be plenty to come that we cannot prepare for, but there’s also plenty to think about entering the tournament’s opening match. Here’s a quick rundown of what people are talking about.

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1) Spain’s coaching upheaval

[ MORE: Spain fires Lopetegui | Hire Hierro | How will it affect them? ]

Struggling countries changing coaches with the World Cup in the horizon has plenty of prior precedence. World powers changing managers with the World Cup staring them in the face does not.

Spain sacked Julen Lopetegui just a day before the opening match of the tournament after it leaked before planned that he would take over the Real Madrid job after the month-long event. Lopetegui angered the Spanish heirarchy by not consulting them before talks with Madrid, so he got the boot. Will Spain rally around the adversity, or will they crumble under the distraction? All eyes will be on the 2010 World Cup winners as they progress through the tournament…or don’t.

2) Mohamed Salah‘s health and impact for Egypt

[ MORE: Salah returns to training, could be ready ]

The electric Liverpool star was cruelly injured by Spanish defender Sergio Ramos in the Champions League final, leaving many with fears that he could miss the tournament and leave Egypt toothless. Thankfully for all neutral fans, it appears Salah’s shoulder will not keep him off the field much, if at all.

So how far can he take Egypt? The African nation appears dangerous with him on the field, but it will be difficult for the country to support their superstar and keep teams from keying on him. Group A does remain wide open, and Egypt will have a good chance of making the knockout round, leaving fans with plenty of chances to catch Salah on the field.

3) Can Lionel Messi plug the gaping hole in his resume?

[ MORE: Messi hints at retirement ]

The Argentinian megastar is widely thought of as one of the best players to ever take the field – if not *the* best, depending on who you ask. However, by the simple fact that he is Argentinian, he will forever be compared to Diego Maradona, and his lack of major trophies on the national stage is a glaring weakness in his otherwise glittering CV.

Argentina is an annual powerhouse, but based on their weak qualifying performance, they are not one of the top favorites to win this tournament. Can Messi will his side to a World Cup win and ward away the haters with (his second) potential retirement on the horizon? Nobody has more to lose in this tournament than the Barcelona legend.

4) Will Germany buck the trend and repeat?

[ MORE: Germany World Cup team preview | Nobody has repeated in 50 years ]

23-year-old Josh Kimmich is arguably Germany’s most valuable player (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images).

History is against the 2014 World Cup winners coming into Russia – nobody has repeated as World Cup champions since Brazil in 1962. Nonetheless, Joachim Low’s squad is unquestionably the deepest in the world on paper, and that has them as the clear favorite alongside the Brazilians.

Josh Kimmich has blossomed as one of the world’s most valuable and versatile players, Thomas Muller loves him a World Cup, and Manuel Neuer is healthy and ready to lead the defending champions.

5) Will France, Belgium, and Poland get over the hump?

[ MORE: France team preview | Belgium | Switzerland ]

There are a host of European teams that have glittering rosters on paper, yet have failed to live up to the expectations of the “Golden Generation” of talent. No team is a better example of that than Belgium. The Red Devils have only made it past a World Cup quarterfinal once in history, and 2014’s near-defeat to the United States followed by their quarterfinal loss to Argentina saw Belgium’s disappointment become a reality. In Euro 2016 the story was the same, with a quarterfinal defeat to Gareth Bale‘s Welsh bunch leaving supporters wanting more.

France is no different. The 1998 World Cup winners have struggled to rediscover that success, and while a loss to eventual champions Germany is nothing to slouch at, their 2014 quarterfinal exit was still disappointing in name. In Euro 2016, they came oh so close to a trophy, but losing in the final to Portugal left them with a bad taste in their mouth on home soil. Didier Deschamps has a roster busting with insane amounts of talent, but their recent warm-up friendlies have unearthed more questions than answers.

Finally, Poland is a team that many have tabbed as overrated by the FIFA rankings. Listed as the 8th-best team on the planet according to the world governing body, Poland has yet to do anything of note with its lofty ranking. The squeaked by Switzerland in the opening round of the Euro 2016 knockout round before falling to Portugal, and thry weren’t even present in Brazil in 2014. Robert Lewandowski is a household name but has done just as much losing as winning in big games for both club and country.

Bonus: Include Switzerland in this group as well if you’d like. Ranked 6th by the FIFA metrics, are they truly all that dangerous?

6) Can England live up to the hype?

[ MORE: Walker wants England to be more blue-collar ]

Can Harry Kane prove England is truly among the elites? (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

England has been the butt of plenty of jokes over the last decade or two, known more for finding new and creative ways to lose before they should. This year looks to be the year that changes.

The Three Lions are well-coached under Gareth Southgate, and their pramatism is balanced out by a truly dangerous attacking intent. Harry Kane is one of the world’s most dangerous strikers, but the entire team still needs to prove it belongs among the upper echelon of world powers. They’ll likely get that chance barring massive disappointment, with a knockout stage match against either Germany or Brazil likely on the cards. Can the Three Lions take its talent on paper and translate it to the field?

7) Can Brazil exorcise the demons of 2014?

[ MORE: Brazil team preview | Neymar scores in warmup ]

Brazil is one of the tournament favorites, there is no denying that. And yet, it still feels like a dark cloud looms over the Selecao. All one needs to do is mention the numbers “7-1” and it immediately harkens back to one of the deepest pits of despair in Brazilian soccer history.

Their brutal pounding at the hands of Germany on home soil remains an open wound for Brazil, and they would love nothing more than to take care of those demons in the very next World Cup. Should both teams win their groups, Germany and Brazil would end up on opposite sides of the bracket, leaving fans salivating at a possible revenge match in the World Cup final.