Al Masry goalkeeper Ahmed El Shenawy has had an impressive 2011, garnering praise for his consistently excellent performances for Egypt in major tournaments. The sequence started at the CAF African Youth Championship in South Africa in April and was followed by the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia. Then came the final qualifying round for the Olympic Football Tournament London 2012 in Morocco, where the Baby Pharaohs booked their ticket with a third-place finish.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com the 21-year-old keeper spoke about his ambitions for 2012, playing for his country’s senior team against Brazil and rumours that he will be moving to a new club in the New Year.
FIFA.com: First of all, congratulations on qualifying for the 2012 Olympics. This year the final round was an U-23 tournament organized by CAF. What do you think of the format?
Ahmed El Shenawy: Thanks! In my opinion the format worked out perfectly and I’d like to take the opportunity to thank the organisers in Morocco, who staged this tournament for the first time and at such short notice. The organization was spot on. Everything was perfect: the hotels, the training facilities and the pitches. We had everything we needed and it was just a marvellous opportunity to rub shoulders with other quality African sides. Events like this always have a positive effect on the teams taking part and improve the quality of their play.
As you’re aware, Egypt was supposed to have hosted this tournament, but at the last moment it was moved to Morocco. Did losing your home advantage have a negative impact on the team?
Of course, we would have preferred it to be held on Egyptian soil, but the situation in the country made it impossible. The safety of players and supporters had to be considered. Sure, we might have done better if we’d been playing at familiar stadiums in front of our fans, but we still did well in Morocco. We qualified for the Olympics and that was the objective.
Before the tournament Egypt’s U-23 coach Hany Ramzy said he was confident the Moroccan supporters would get behind Egypt. Did they?
They certainly did. The Moroccan public were 100 per cent behind us in all our games. After our semi-final loss to Morocco they gave us a lot of encouragement and I’d like to thank them all personally for their amazing support during our third-place play-off against Senegal. It was a must-win game and they deserve a lot of the credit for our victory.
It’s been a year of achievements for you: third place at the African Youth Championship, reaching the last 16 of the FIFA U-20 World Cup and another third place in Morocco, which guarantees you a berth at the Olympics. What have been your happiest memories of 2011?
There have been a few. It’s been quite a year for me personally, what with my winning the award for the best goalkeeper at the U-20 African Youth Championships. However, if I had to pick one moment, it would be beating Senegal to take third place in Morocco and qualify for the 2012 Olympics.
You won the best goalkeeper award in South Africa, were picked in the team of the tournament in Morocco and then played for Egypt’s first team in a friendly against Brazil. Do you think you have what it takes to replace a great goalkeeper like Essam Al Hadari?
I aspire to, naturally, but only once he retires for good. He’s still Egypt’s number-one keeper. He may be experiencing a few difficulties at the moment, but I’m confident he’ll find a way through and regain his rightful place as the country’s last line of defence.
How was it playing for the first team, especially against such illustrious opponents as Brazil?
Well, it was a very tough match. Your first game for the national side is always going to be a nervous time, and it doesn’t make it any easier when you’re playing a side like Brazil. For the first five minutes I was terrified, but I settled down after that and did my job. That game was a turning point in my life, to be honest.
What do think of Egypt’s new coach, Bob Bradley?
He’s a guy with fresh ideas who’s had some amazing results with the USA team. We hope he can do the same for us, lead us to the World Cup and the next African Cup of Nations, and get the first team out of its current slump.
You were only one year old when Egypt last qualified for the Olympics back in 1992. In Barcelona the team went out at the group stage after losing to Spain and Qatar. How do you think things will go in London next year?
I’m hoping we do really well! This will be the last major tournament for this generation of youth players, so I want us to get past the group stage and really make our mark. We’ll be playing strong sides and it won’t be easy. I also hope that as many of our players as possible get picked up by major clubs. It’s a dream for all of us.
On that subject, you’re rumoured to have been the subject of transfer talks between Al Masry and a number of European clubs, and that Al Ahly and Zamalek have also taken an interest in you. Can you confirm any of that?
I don’t think that this is the right moment for me to leave. I’d like to win something with Al Masry, and also have success with the Olympic team in London or with the Egypt senior team before I start thinking of moving on. I’m yet to win a single title, after all. Al Masry have assured me that they will not block a potential move if the offer is good, but only after the end of this season. We have a good chance of winning the Egypt Cup this year and I want to be part of that.