Egypt defends choice of Chechnya as World Cup base

Egypt's team pose for a group photo prior to during the group A match between Saudi Arabia and Egypt at the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Volgograd Arena in Volgograd, Russia, Monday, June 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

CAIRO — The head of Egypt's soccer federation on Wednesday defended the decision to select Chechnya as the base of the country's World Cup squad in Russia but didn't directly address accusations that Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah was used for political purposes there.

Hany Abo Rida told reporters in Cairo that Chechen capital Grozny was selected on technical grounds, but acknowledged the federation had considered at one point to move its base, but decided not to for fear that the move might hurt Egypt's close relations with Russia.

"We could not as a football federation be held responsible for tensions or problems between Egypt and Russia," he said.

The federation's choice of Chechnya raised many eyebrows because it meant huge distances to travel to matches and because of the poor human rights record of its leader, former rebel Ramzan Kadyrov.

Abo Rida also dismissed perceptions that Salah was used in Chechnya by Kadyrov as a political tool as "outside talk," an apparent reference to criticism in the British media about Salah's meeting with the Chechen leader.

Kadyrov granted Salah honorary citizenship during a dinner banquet for the Egyptian squad Friday. Salah is said to have been particularly annoyed by the event and said this week he was considering retiring from Egypt's national team.

"The Chechen leader met Salah as a fan and not as a head of state," Abo Rida said. "That the Chechen leader received Salah and honored him is like he honored the entire Egyptian population."

Salah, the Premier League's player of the season and top scorer with 44 goals, returned to Egypt on Tuesday after the Pharaohs were eliminated from the World Cup with three consecutive losses in the group stage. It was Egypt's appearance at soccer's premier tournament since 1990. Salah came into the tournament in Russia after being injured in the Champions League final last month.

Salah has yet to publicly say anything about the team's stay in Grozny, but he looked visibly upset during the team's training in Volgograd on Sunday and didn't celebrate his goal against Saudi Arabia in the final group match Monday. In a post-match interview, he somberly apologized to the fans who traveled to Russia to support the team.

Salah, 26, was an unused substitute in Egypt's 1-0 loss to Uruguay, but scored from a penalty he won in a 3-1 defeat from Russia and scored Egypt's first World Cup goal from open play against Saudi Arabia in a 2-1 loss.

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Associated Press writer Hamza Hendawi contributed to this report from Rostov-on-Don, Russia.

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