Africa Cup of Nations glory will boost Salah’s Ballon d’Or hopes, says Aguirre

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Mohamed Salah scored 22 Premier League goals last season (PA)

Egypt head coach Javier Aguirre has told Mohamed Salah that leading his country to Africa Cup of Nations glory will significantly boost his prospects of winning the Ballon d’Or.

Pharaohs forward Salah approaches the tournament full of confidence after lifting the Champions League trophy at the end of a fine season with Liverpool.

Seven-time champions Egypt kick off their campaign on Friday against Group A opponents Zimbabwe in Cairo.

And Mexican Aguirre believes there is added incentive for Salah to impress on home soil.

“He’s helped me with the group since the beginning; he’s a kind of leader,” the 60-year-old told UAE newspaper The National.

“I’m really happy with him because he had an extraordinary season with his club.

“So I say, ‘OK Mohamed, if you’re able to help us win the African Cup, for sure you’re going to be in the last three or four for the Ballon d’Or’.

“He’s a very nice guy, a humble guy. He’s sincere, he jokes with everybody. We have a real normal relationship.”

Egypt, who last won the competition in 2010, are pre-tournament favourites.

Holders Cameroon had been selected as hosts when former Atletico Madrid and Mexico boss Aguirre was appointed following Egypt’s dismal 2018 World Cup campaign.

But the tournament, which has expanded from 16 teams to 24 and will be played during the European summer for the first time, was later switched due to concerns from the Confederation of African Football about Cameroon’s suitability.

Aguirre admits he is under severe pressure to deliver to an expectant nation and accepts that anything less than lifting the trophy will be insufficient.

“I have a lot of responsibility — the head coach of this big project,” he added.

“In Egypt football is almost a religion. Around 100 million people here, they all love the game. It’s incredible.

“Now, we have a lot of pressure. It’s not enough for the semi-final, the final, nothing. It’s the cup. All the people are asking for that.”

Zimbabwe coach Sunday Chidzambwa expects a tough opening fixture.

“We know how strong Egypt are especially when they play at home and the fans are on their side supporting them throughout the competition,” he told africanfootball.com.

“Now that we are in the AFCON group stages, we will work hard to get the best possible results in all our games.”

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