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 By David Usher

Liverpool's World Cup contingent experiencing mixed results in Russia

Liverpool have eight players competing at the World Cup, but if Jurgen Klopp has his way, it could be 11 by the time the summer ends. Nabil Fekir (France), Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland) and goalkeeper Alisson Becker (Brazil) are all reported targets, while England pair Jack Butland and Nick Pope have both been mentioned as possible alternatives to Alisson.

The representatives Liverpool do have in Russia, though, have had a mixed time of it so far.

Dejan Lovren wasted no time in introducing himself to the tournament, flattening former Watford man Odion Ighalo inside 10 seconds of Croatia's routine 2-0 win over Nigeria. The often maligned defender ended the season strongly and carried that into the Nigeria game, making a couple of vital blocks and showing an air of assurance throughout, even without Virgil van Dijk there to hold his hand. He's in fine form, but that is often when he is at his most vulnerable.

Ominously, next up for him is Argentina and Lionel Messi. In true Lovren style, he was bullish about the prospect: "I played against Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and now it's Messi. But we know how to play against the big teams and we are not scared of them. They have one of the best players in the world, maybe the best, in Messi, but Iceland showed how to defend against him."

Classic Lovren. He was on the losing side to both Ronaldo and Neymar, but that's not going to put a dent in his irrational confidence. Don't ever change, Dejan.

Roberto Firmino, meanwhile, was a late substitute as Brazil were held by a dogged Switzerland side. Given the robust and uncompromising play of the Swiss, it was probably no bad thing for Liverpool that Firmino was on the bench.

Based on club form Firmino should start, but Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus is a favourite of the coach and has a good goal-scoring record for his country. Jesus was largely ineffective against the Swiss, though, and Brazil looked livelier when Firmino was introduced, so perhaps "Bobby" will get his chance to shine as brightly as his teeth sooner rather than later.

Elsewhere, forgotten man Marko Grujic was nowhere to be seen as Serbia beat Costa Rica. No change there then, the young midfielder has barely had a look in at Liverpool in the two years he's been there and is unlikely to be a part of the squad next season.

Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was also in familiar territory, sat on the bench as Belgium eased past Panama. He too is likely to be playing his football elsewhere next season, or at least he should be.

Another unused substitute was Trent Alexander-Arnold, who watched from the sidelines as England left it late in beating Tunisia. The impressive display of Tottenham's Kieran Trippier makes it unlikely that we will see the Alexander-Arnold any time soon, but just being at a World Cup is a great learning experience for the teenager whose development is way ahead of schedule. Any playing time would be a bonus.

Mohamed Salah reacts after Egypt lost its second group-stage match at the World Cup.
While much of Liverpool's World Cup contingent is set for knockout runs, Mohamed Salah's Egypt suffered a group-stage exit.

Jordan Henderson, meanwhile, earned widespread praise for his performance in the anchorman role and has now seemingly ended the debate as to whether he should be starting ahead of Eric Dier.

That this was even a debate to begin with is puzzling. The Liverpool skipper might not be everybody's cup of tea, but he's got far more to his game than the ponderous, defensive-minded Dier. Henderson's range of passing really caught the eye against Tunisia, while his leadership qualities were widely praised too.

Henderson is England's de facto captain but it's Harry Kane who has the armband, presumably because he claimed it was his and nobody was prepared to tell him it wasn't. Kane's an honest lad; if he says he's captain, then who are we to doubt him?

One Red who does have the armband for his country is Sadio Mane, and he led Senegal to a win over Poland in their first game. Mane was not as direct as he is for Liverpool. It was a disciplined and safe performance from him but Senegal will need to let him play with more freedom when they face better sides than Poland. Mark it down though, at some point Mane will make a significant contribution to this tournament as he looks ready to explode.

Last but by no means least is Mohamed Salah, who belatedly made his World Cup bow in Egypt's second match of the tournament against Russia. The 44-goal superstar missed Egypt's opener, a heartbreaking last-minute loss to Uruguay. His absence was disappointing for the neutrals and disastrous for Egypt, while Liverpool fans were denied seeing their new love up against their old flame.

Luis Suarez vs. Salah would have been fascinating, but perhaps we'll see it in next season's Champions League, hopefully after Salah has exacted revenge for what happened in last month's final by eliminating Real Madrid and the dastardly Sergio Ramos.

Salah wasn't at his best against Russia and may still have been bothered by his injured shoulder. Not having Firmino and Mane up there with him was surely the bigger problem. John Lennon was a successful solo artist but his best work came as part of the Beatles. Not even Salah can do it on his own.

He did win and convert a penalty, but it wasn't enough as Egypt went down to a 3-1 defeat that virtually sealed their exit from the competition. It's sad for Salah but it's no bad thing from Liverpool's point of view. The club will be hoping he can bang in a couple against Saudi Arabia in Egypt's final game and then rest up for the remainder of the summer to ensure he's fully recovered for the new season.

Salah may be heading home early but the rest of the Liverpool contingent are all looking in good shape to make the knockout stages, with Lovren, Mane, Firmino and Henderson all set to play a significant part.

Who knows, perhaps one of them will even win it. For Liverpool though, the main thing is that they all come back injury free.

Dave Usher is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.


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