World Cup play-offs: 'Odd Couple' Salah and Mane face off again

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Sadio Mane consoles Mohamed Salah after Cup of Nations finalSenegal's Sadio Mane consoles Mohamed Salah after Egypt lose the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations final

After working together in recent weeks to keep Liverpool's quest for an historic quadruple alive, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah are set to become international rivals once again.

The duo share something of an 'odd couple' relationship which will continue over the next 10 days as Mane's Senegal and Salah's Egypt go head-to-head for a place at the 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar.

The first part of a trilogy between the two nations saw Mane convert the winning spot-kick as Senegal beat Egypt in the final of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon in February.

Moments after sealing his country's first ever Nations Cup, Mane was seen with his arm around Salah's shoulders as he consoled his Reds' teammate in one of the most memorable images from the finals.

They might have been rivals on the pitch that night, but off the pitch they are friends after playing together at Liverpool for nearly five years, following Salah's arrival from Roma in the summer of 2017.

That friendship has been put to the test domestically though, and strangely enough, their highly competitive attitudes have in recent years helped Liverpool become English, European and World champions.

Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah celebrate a goal for LiverpoolSadio Mane and Mohamed Salah celebrate a goal for Liverpool

Their desire for goals is fierce, with the pair scoring 251 between them since Salah's arrival on Merseyside, with the Egyptian outscoring the Senegalese by 55 goals.

His tally of 153 goals puts him just five strikes behind Michael Owen, who sits 8th in Liverpool's all-time goalscorers' list.

Mane's tally of 111 means he recently overtook John Barnes, a player seen as one of the club's very best. Mane, quite rightly, can now be included in the same bracket as the former Reds' winger.

They also top the list of African goalscorers in the Premier League, with both men surpassing Ivory Coast and Chelsea legend Didier Drogba, who scored 104.

Such is their desire to outscore one another, they have been accused in some quarters of not wanting to pass if their teammate is in a better position.

The most famous, or perhaps infamous, example of this was when Liverpool beat Burnley 3-0 in August 2019.

Mane was enraged when we was substituted in the 85th minute at Turf Moor with his wrath directed at Salah who, in the second half, preferred to shoot rather than playing in his better-placed teammate.

In a later interview, Mane revealed he and Salah soon defused the situation after discussing the matter straight after the game, showing how professional they are. Consider the matter closed.

That incident showed not only the professionalism of the two players but the togetherness throughout the Liverpool squad. Success always comes first.

It is not only the goalscoring rivalry that Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has dealt with so expertly, there was also the matter of which positions the duo would play.

Mane joined from Southampton in 2016 as the most expensive African footballer in history and in that first season he was deployed to great effect on the right-hand side of the Reds' attack.

He scored 13 goals before injury ruled him out for the last two months of the season.

Things changed during Mane's second season with the arrival of Salah as Klopp moved the Senegalese to the opposite flank - a decision that has reaped rewards for both players.

The African duo have continued to push each other to ever greater heights with the 2018/19 season a perfect example as both finished the Premier League campaign with 22 goals, earning a share of the golden boot along with Gabon and Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Both men deserve to show off their talent on the world stage in eight months' time but, sadly, only one will realise that dream in Qatar.

Whatever happens between Egypt and Senegal, the 'odd couple' will come back to Liverpool determined to fight together to finish off their club season by adding more silverware to the Anfield trophy cabinet.

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