Did Mo Salah and Egypt just hand Cristiano Ronaldo a record 6th Ballon d’Or?
Hosts Egypt crashed out of the Africa Cup of Nations in a shock defeat to South Africa on Saturday night in a result that could have ramifications for striker Mohamed Salah and his quest for football’s biggest individual prize.
A late strike by Thembinkosi Lorch handed South Africa victory in Cairo and booked their place in the last 16 of a competition that many fancied Egypt – with star striker Salah leading the line up front – to win.
But that was not the case as the Egyptians came undone in a result which has since led to Pharaohs manager Javier Aguirre being sacked.
It was Aguirre who on the eve of Saturday’s clash said that through securing collective glory with Egypt, Liverpool star Salah could cement his claims for the coveted Ballon d’Or.
“If he can lead Egypt to the African Cup of Nations, no one can keep the Ballon d’Or away from him,” Mexican Aguirre had said of the 27-year-old forward.
Salah headed to his home competition on the back of helping Liverpool claim the Champions League title with victory over Tottenham in Madrid at the start of June.
The striker is widely considered to be in the running for this year’s Ballon d’Or accolade, along with teammate and Dutch captain Virgil van Dijk, as well as the usual suspects of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – each five-time winners of the award.
But with both Ronaldo and Messi falling short in the Champions League last season with Juventus and Barcelona respectively, it has been suggested – including by Portuguese managerial great Jose Mourinho – that national team glory could determine where football's biggest individual prize ends up.Also on rt.com Will a Liverpool player win the Ballon d’Or? Here’s what Jose Mourinho had to say…
Playing for Argentina, Messi last week suffered a semi-final exit at the hands of Brazil in the Copa America, also being controversially sent off in the third-place playoff against Chile on Saturday as his national team woes continued.
By contrast, Portuguese star Ronaldo led his nation to the victory at the inaugural UEFA Nations League title in June, where they beat a Dutch team including van Dijk in the final.
The Juve forward was particularly impressive in the semi-final, striking a hat-trick against Switzerland.
And ominously for Juve's rivals domestically and in Europe, new manager Maurizio Sarri has promised to deploy Ronaldo closer to goal next season in a bid to make him more potent.Also on rt.com From CR7 to CR9: Ronaldo & Sarri in holiday meeting to plot star striker’s ‘new role at Juve’
Ronaldo struck 28 goals in all competitions for Juve last season, compared with an incredible 51 for Messi for Barcelona.
Salah, meanwhile, bagged 27 for Liverpool, and it seems that national team glory for Egypt could have played a big part in advancing his claims for the Ballon d’Or title won by Luka Modric last year.
An outsider in the competition could also be Salah’s Liverpool teammate Sadio Mane, who hit 26 goals for the Reds last season and remains in contention with Senegal at AFCON.
Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker has been outstanding in helping Brazil to the Copa America final, where they face Peru on Sunday, but the award by France Football has only ever once gone to a 'keeper (Russian legend Lev Yashin back in 1963), meaning he would be a huge underdog for it.
With no clear contender currently among the field, the club season could yet determine things when it gets underway around Europe in the coming weeks.
But in international football terms, Ronaldo has his nose out in front as he aims for a record sixth Ballon d'Or at the age of 34, which would put him one ahead of great rival Messi.