Egypt’s star striker is arguably one of the most polarising players on the planet. An entire nation swoons in ecstasy when he is on form, but his erstwhile supporters soon voice criticism when things fail to go his way. Yet, for better or worse, the African champions’ hopes of an upset at the forthcoming FIFA Confederations Cup 2009 in South Africa rest squarely on his shoulders.
Zaki is widely regarded as having everything a player needs to achieve world-class status. Pundits praise his muscular physique, his striker’s nose for goal and his refined skills. However, Zaki stands accused by some of making too little of his prodigious talent, and only delivering the goods when the mood takes him.
The burly hitman struck ten goals in the first 20 matches of Wigan Athletic’s 2008-09 English Premier League campaign, rubbing shoulders in the scoring charts with the likes of Chelsea superstar Nicolas Anelka and Manchester City’s big-name Brazilian Robinho. However, the goals dried up, and coach Steve Bruce’s early-season words of praise turned to fierce criticism for an apparent lack of discipline. At the end of the season, Wigan declined to exercise an option to purchase the on-loan forward from Cairo giants Zamalek.
The football jury is still out on whether Zaki, who has 26 goals in 50 appearances for his country, can be considered consistent enough to be ranked alongside the world's greatest strikers. "I think it’s about time I was named African Player of the Year. It’s more than 25 years since an Egyptian won it, which is disappointing," he declared in an exclusive FIFA.com interview last autumn. However, despite his appeal for recognition, the continental accolade went to Togo and Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor.
As of 14 June, Zaki has the perfect stage to prove he has the class and quality to be bracketed with the world’s best. Egypt have been drawn in FIFA Confederations Cup Group B along with FIFA World Cup™ holders Italy, five-time world champions Brazil, and the USA. The striker’s countless fans all over the globe will be desperately hoping to see goals from their hero against some of the best defenders in the game.
"It’ll be fantastic playing the likes of Brazil, Italy or Spain. People are definitely going to expect the African champions to play to win, and in my opinion, that’s exactly what we should be doing," the ever-confident Zaki stated. Given head coach Hassen Shehata’s surprise decision to contest the tournament without Mido, Zaki seems destined to play an even more central role for his country.
Zaki’s fortunes at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup represent one of the more intriguing riddles to be solved as the event unfolds. No-one doubts that the muscular marksman has the potential to impress the watching world and join the elite ranks of the genuinely top-class players – but will he rise to the big occasion? Click 'Add your comment' to send us your opinion, remembering to keep your posts clean, respectful, on-topic and in English. We look forward to reading them!