VOLGOGRAD, Russia (AP) — Mohamed Salah put aside his highly publicized troubles to score another World Cup goal.
The Egypt forward, who has been at the center of a controversy involving his “honorary citizenship” from Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, got one goal Monday in his team’s 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia.
Salah also scored in Egypt’s 3-1 loss to Russia in his first game back after injuring his left shoulder while playing for Liverpool in the Champions League final. But the team was still eliminated from the World Cup after three straight losses in Group A.
“I would like to thank all the people who traveled here and supported us for the three matches. I know it’s as difficult for you as it is for us,” Salah said. “I want to apologize to you from all my heart.”
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Besides the goal, Salah occasionally showcased his dizzying dribbling skills and contested for every ball. But there was nothing he could do about the result.
Egypt, which was playing at the World Cup for the first time since 1990, finished in last place in the group in what has become a hugely disappointing tournament for the Egyptians.
After the Saudis scored their injury-time winner on Monday, Salah pulled his jersey up over his face. Minutes later, he politely acknowledged the thousands of Egyptians who roared every time he touched the ball before he disappeared inside the tunnel.
“Maybe he was not able to do what he normally does, what we’re used to, but he scored,” Egypt coach Hector Cuper said of Salah. “He did play, and maybe we could have expected more but he can’t be the only one to give everything.”
Salah’s 22nd-minute goal was a typical effort that his fans have grown accustomed to. Controlling a pass from playmaker Abdalla Said while sandwiched by two Saudi defenders, he calmly lobbed goalkeeper Yasser Almosailem.
It was Egypt’s first goal in open play since the 1934 World Cup in Italy, but Salah did not celebrate — perhaps an overt sign that he is unhappy with the situation off the field.
The match in Volgograd came one day after Salah apparently told Egyptian team officials and teammates that he may retire from international play in protest against being used as a political symbol while the World Cup squad was based in Grozny, the capital of the mostly Muslim region of Chechnya.
He said he was particularly annoyed with a team banquet hosted by Kadyrov, who used the dinner to grant Salah “honorary citizenship.”
Kadyrov, a former rebel who switched his loyalties to Moscow, faces accusations of gross human rights violations, including abductions and killings.
The Egyptian soccer federation maintains that Salah has not complained.
More AP World Cup coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup