Mohamed Salah answers critics by leading Egypt to victory over Uganda at 2019 Africa Cup of Nations
Uganda still go through to the last 16 despite going down to goals to Salah and Elmohamady
After a build-up dominated by rare criticism, Mohamed Salah answered back.
Egypt’s star turned the conversation back to matters on the pitch, although the controversy surrounding his defence of teammate Amr Warda will no doubt rumble on past Sunday night's 2-0 victory against Uganda in Cairo, as well it should.
Salah struck a fine first-half free kick to set the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations hosts on their way to winning Group A.
Top spot secured, Egypt march through to the last 16. For now they avoid that tricky test against Senegal.
Ahmed Elmohamady added to Salah’s score moments before half time at the Cairo International Stadium, the captain grabbing his second goal in as many matches.
"The key was the timing, the moment of the first goal and the second were psychologically very important," said Egypt manager Javier Aguirre. "This is a game where you have to score more than the other team.
"The pressure is a lot," he added. "We tried to play ... people want us to win, win, win. So far, we have nine points and we have to improve a lot of things."
Elmohamady said: "Nine points out of three games is something Egypt is used to - the difficult part is what comes next.
Just like the Democratic Republic of Congo four days earlier, Uganda were outdone by an Elmohamady-Salah one-two, only this time in reverse.
But for long spells it was Egypt who looked set to take a knockout punch. Until Salah curled his 36th-minute free kick beyond Denis Onyango, Uganda had outplayed their heavily fancied rivals. They had six shots on target. Egypt didn't have one.
Home goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy saved his best for Allan Kyambadde’s devilishly swerving shot from all of 35 yards, then the double block on 34 minutes from Lumala Abdu.
Although already qualified – two wins from two ensured only a point was required for top place – Egypt appeared rattled.
But Salah settled them down. Pretty ineffective until then, he lifted his free kick inches over the Ugandan wall and bent it away from Onyango. It nestled inside the post.
As the rest of the stadium burst with joy, Salah barely celebrated, perhaps a nod to an unfamiliar few days for Egypt's talisman.
It took his tally to two for the tournament, eight in his past eight competitive matches for his country and 41 altogether. Only two players have scored more for Egypt.
Maybe Elmohamady felt like making a late run at the all-time charts. Aged 31, and with only a handful of international goals, the full-back grabbed his second of the tournament.
Right on half time, he drilled a shot low into the bottom corner of the Uganda goal. It followed an uncharacteristic Salah miscue.
Not long into the second half, the Liverpool forward should have made personal amends. But, having raced clear of the Uganda defence, Salah failed to scoop his shot past Onyango’s firm right hand.
From there, the two teams reverted to type. Egypt looked more than a little frayed, fatigued even, and Uganda fated to score.
Egyptian centre-back Baher El Mohamady erred, then atoned by deflecting over the crossbar what seemed a certain goal from Farouk Miya.
Soon after, Miya dipped a free kick on to the roof of the net, with El Shennawy sprawling.
On the hour, Ayman Ashraf’s attempted clearance somehow stayed out of his own goal, flashing across it and eventually wide.
With 15 minutes left, Emmanuel Okwi got in behind Ahmed Hegazy and, with only El Shennawy to beat but under pressure from his marker, lobbed the ball to the wrong side of the post.
"We are disappointed about the result because we missed a lot of chances," said Uganda manager Sebastien Desabre. "Unfortunately, in football the most important thing is to score and we didn't have success in that aspect.
"But we deserved to qualify and for me, that's the most important thing."
Uganda still go through to the knockouts as runners-up to Egypt.
The seven-time continental champions can restock and refocus, looking forward to Saturday's last-16 clash, again in Cairo, against the third-best placed side from either Group C, D or E.
But even with three victories from three and with their defence yet to be breached, much improvement is necessary.
Updated: July 1, 2019 04:45 PM