Mohamed Salah tasted defeat in the Africa Cup of Nations final for the second time in his career on Sunday night.
The Liverpool star and his teammates were a credit to themselves on their way to the final in Cameroon, but ultimately came up short in a penalty shootout defeat to first-time-winners Senegal.
Sadio Mane’s missed penalty took the headlines during 120 minutes of goalless football, but Salah’s brother in arms at Anfield made no mistake from 12 yards when it came to the shootout.
Senegal defeat Egypt on penalties
With Mohamed Abdelmonem and Mohanad Lasheen having missed their spot-kicks for Egypt, while only Bouna Sarr came up short for Senegal, it fell upon Mane to score the match-winning penalty.
You know the rest of the story with the Premier League hero firing Senegal to their first ever AFCON title but interestingly, it also meant that Salah never got to take a penalty of his own in the process.
With Senegal taking first, Mane’s conversion secured a 4-2 shootout win that made the outcome of Egypt’s fifth regulation penalty, which Salah would almost certainly have taken, irrelevant.
Salah didn’t take a penalty vs Senegal
Salah had been postured as Egypt’s fifth taker during the round of 16 shootout against Ivory Coast in a decision that paid off handsomely with the 29-year-old holding his nerve to score the decider.
Now, that’s all well and good, but given how the final played out three matches down the line, is there an argument to be had that placing Salah as the fifth taker isn’t the most effective tactic?
It does, after all, feel damning for Egypt that they never got to deploy one of the best penalty takers in the world when spot-kick proficiency had arguably never mattered more.
Carragher sparks debate on Twitter
Regardles where you stand on the debate, though, you can rest assured that it’s at the forefront of conversation on social media right now after an interesting tweet from Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher.
The defender-cum-pundit opined that it was ‘madness’ that Salah, like Cristiano Ronaldo at Euro 2012, would be placed in a position that made it possible for him to never end up taking a penalty.
Carragher penned: “That is why your best penalty taker should never go fifth. Mo Salah not taking a penalty for Egypt in a shootout in a final is madness. Also happened to Ronaldo years ago for Portugal v Spain. #AFCON2021 #SENEGY.”
Has he got a point? Do you agree? Do you disagree? Well, you can rest assured that he’s split the room, so be sure to check out arguments on both sides of the battle-lines down below:
The Messi way or Ronaldo way?
Ronaldo and Lionel Messi being brought into the conversation is certainly an interesting one when you consider that the former typically steps up later in the shootout and the latter often leads the charge.
To use Carragher’s example, Portugal never got the chance to call upon Ronaldo’s spot-kick expertise in the Euro 2012 semi-finals against Spain because the shootout never made it that far.
Yes, the fifth penalty can often have the most pressure of all, but when there’s no guarantee that the shootout will ever reach that point, is it not dangerous to risk your best penalty taker in that position?
A tough debate to solve
Put an accomplished taker there, sure, but you risk leaving with regret – as Egypt did – in a world where an almost-certain penalty conversion isn’t taken advantage of.
Sure, in a world where Salah was first up and scored, only for Abdelmonem and Lasheen to still miss, then Senegal would have won in spite of the switch – and it’s ultimately one big hypothetical exercise.
But regardless of what the right tactic might be, you can bet that Egypt will be feeling at least a smidgen of regret for placing Salah in a position where he never got to take a penalty when it mattered most.