What's the earliest Mo Salah could return to Liverpool?

Mo Salah faces one of his biggest games of the season on Thursday night, and it's not for Liverpool.

The Egypt captain will lead his side out to face Ghana in Abidjan for the second group game of the Africa Cup of Nations, with a good result key for both sides.

Among the pre-tournament favourites, Egypt needed a stoppage-time penalty from Salah to spare their blushes and rescue a point against FIFA's 111th-ranked side Mozambique in their opener on Sunday.

That disappointing result adds pressure to the Pharaohs' next two group matches, which come against the (theoretically) stronger sides.

Mo Salah, Egypt - Pro Shots

Mohamed Salah for Egypt, ProShots

After Cape Verde beat Ghana 1-0 in the other group opener, the Black Stars will be desperate to turn things around against Egypt on Thursday, or face the prospect of an ignominious early exit.

Meanwhile, Group B leaders Cape Verde can secure their route to the last 16 with a good result against Mozambique.

Should Salah and Egypt lose, they risk going into the final round of fixtures bottom of the group and needing to win against Cape Verde to stand any chance of progression.

That prospect is unthinkable for the country which boasts more AFCON titles than any other (seven).

Meanwhile, Salah's own quest for international glory is well-known. Though he helped take Egypt to their first World Cup finals in 28 years back in 2018, the winger has yet to win silverware for his country, having lost two AFCON finals previously (2017, 2022).

How Salah could make an early return to Liverpool

While a defeat on Thursday against Ghana would set alarm bells ringing for Salah and Egypt, it could (let's face it, would) be welcome news for Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool.

Should the Pharaohs face elimination at the group stage of AFCON, it would result in an early return to club duty for Salah – something Klopp joked he was hoping for.

After the clash with Ghana, Egypt's final group game vs Cape Verde is scheduled for Monday, 22 January at 20:00 GMT.

Meanwhile, Liverpool return to action against Bournemouth in the Premier League the day before, meaning Salah will miss at least one more game regardless of Egypt's results.

However, while the Reds' subsequent fixture against Fulham in the second leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final comes on Wednesday, 24 January (20:00 GMT), it is probably unrealistic to suggest Salah could feature, even if Egypt were to be eliminated – with the game just 48 hours after the Pharaohs final match.

Mo Salah, Liverpool vs Arsenal - Propaganda

Mo Salah, Liverpool vs Arsenal - Propaganda

More realistic would be Sunday, 28 January as the Reds host Norwich in the FA Cup fourth round. Liverpool then take on Chelsea in the Premier League three days later.

This is, of course, all hypothetical and should Egypt progress beyond the group stage, Salah's length of absence will depend entirely on how far the Pharaohs go.

Despite their Mozambique struggles, Egypt's chances of making at least the last 16 are good.

In addition to the top two of each of the six AFCON groups gaining passage to the knockouts, four of the best third-placed group teams will also qualify.

Egypt also have a strong head-to-head record against Ghana and have lost just two of last 15 against their next opponents – though their most recent meeting was over six years ago.

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