CAIRO/ CAPE TOWN – Liverpool star Mohamed Salah scored four times and took his goal tally for Egypt past 50 as they began their 2026 World Cup qualifying campaign with an expected victory over Djibouti while Nigeria was held to a shock home draw by Lesotho.
The 31-year-old became Egypt’s all-time leading scorer in World Cup qualifiers after netting a quadruple. The Liverpool star has now scored 15 goals for the Pharaohs in the qualifiers.
Salah´s performance ensured a 6-0 win for Egypt in their opening Group A match in Cairo with the striker grabbing the first four goals and increasing his overall tally for Egypt to 53 in 93 appearances as they look for a place at the 2026 finals, having missed out on the Qatar World Cup last year.
He has scored 15 goals from 21 qualifying matches, overtaking Mohamed Aboutreika who scored 14 in 25 appearances between 2001 and 2013.
Salah had a hat trick in the first half hour of the match at Cairo International Stadium. He added the fourth toward the end of play.
It was Egypt’s first match in African qualifying for the expanded 2026 World Cup. The seven-time African Cup champions failed to qualify for last year’s World Cup in Qatar after playing at the 2018 tournament in Russia.
With Liverpool, Salah has scored 12 goals in all competitions – including twice in the 3-0 win over Brentford in the English Premier League.
Salah is the first player in Liverpool history to score in the first six home games of a league season.
Mostafa Mohamed and Mahmoud Trezeguet scored the other goals for the Pharaohs.
In other matches, Nigeria was held to a 1-1 draw at home by Lesotho, Algeria beat Somalia 3-1, Burundi edged Gambia 3-2, Mozambique defeated Botswana 3-2, Gabon beat Kenya 2-1 and Sudan held Togo to a 1-1 draw, AP reported.
Nine teams from Africa will qualify directly for the 48-team World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada. A 10th team could make the field through the playoffs.
The Nigerians was surprisingly held to a draw by one of the continent´s smallest countries.
The host team controlled much of the possession at Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo, but Lesotho took the lead early in the second half when defender Motlomelo Mkhawanazi rose unmarked to put the Crocodiles ahead with a thumping header.
Victor Boniface, a forward who plays for Bayer Leverkusen, equalized with another free header from a cross by Kelechi Iheanacho.
Lesotho has never qualified for the African Cup of Nations, let alone the World Cup.
Nigeria, without injured Napoli striker Victor Osimhen, were held to a 1-1 draw at a rainy Uyo by the small mountain kingdom of Lesotho, who are 113 places below them in the FIFA rankings, Reuters reported.
Defender Motlomelo Mkhwanazi put Lesotho into a shock lead after 56 minutes of the Group C encounter and they kept their advantage for 11 minutes before London-born centre back Semi Ajayi headed home the equaliser from Kelechi Iheanacho´s corner.
But despite pressure on the visitors’ goal for the remainder of the game, Nigeria could not fashion a winner and the result will put heavy pressure on coach Jose Peserio, just two months out from their participation at the Africa Cup of Nations finals.
Mozambique claimed the first away victory of the African qualifying campaign, which got underway this week, beating Botswana 3-2 in Group G with Jonathan Muiomo, who plays in the fourth tier of German club football, scoring the winner in only his second appearance.
Algeria is the favourites in that group but their 3-1 home win over Somalia in Algiers was unconvincing with Riyad Mahrez and Amine Gouiri among their star players taken off at halftime as coach Djamel Belmadi looked to freshen up a struggling side.
Gabon fought from a goal down to beat Kenya 2-1 with Denis Bouanga, this year´s top scorer in Major League Soccer, equalising on the hour mark and Guelor Kanga grabbing a 88th-minute winner in Franceville.
Burundi also won in Group F, edging the Gambia 3-2 in their match played in Tanzania because of Burundi´s lack of a suitable stadium.
Sudan were forced to host their Group B clash against Togo in Benghazi, Libya because of the civil war in their country and although they went ahead through an early penalty saw Togo equalise through Belgian-based Kevin Denkey for a 1-1 draw.
The first two rounds of African qualifiers are played from Wednesday to next Tuesday, and will resume next June.
There are nine groups where the winner qualifies for the 2026 finals in Canada, Mexico and the US but the four best runners-up get a further chance to qualify through a two-tier playoff system.