Among such leading lights as Mohameds Aboutrika and Zidan, the name Hosni Abd-Rabou lacks the same kind of global resonance. But that is about to change as the 23-year-old midfielder bypassed the likes of Samuel Eto'o, Michael Essien and Didier Drogba to be named best player in a victorious Egyptian campaign at Ghana 2008.
Now, as FIFA.com found out, the Ismaily prodigy is hoping to use the successes of those African finals as a springboard to the next FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa in 2010.
After debuting for the senior national team in 2004, Abd-Rabou suffered a tremendous setback just days before the 2006 African Cup of Nations on home soil when he was forced to pull out with a hamstring injury.
"I was so downhearted," said Abd-Rabou, who was only
21 at the time. "I suffered from an overwhelming depression
afterwards and it took some time for me to regain my form."
The pain and anguish that accompanied missing out on that winning campaign doubled the player's desire to perform this year, and the all-action midfielder turned in some inspired displays to lead Egypt to a record sixth African title in January. He even earned public praise from the likes of 'special one' and new Inter Milan Jose Mourinho and French world beater Marcel Desailly.
Spirit over stars
Abd-Rabou, who scored four goals in Ghana to finish joint top scorer, was recognised as the tournament's top player. "I was so motivated to give it my all this year to compensate for not playing in the previous edition that the disappointment of 2006 actually did me a huge favour," he confessed.
Lifting the trophy in Ghana wasn't his first brush with glory either. At barely 17, he was the youngest player in the Egyptian top flight when Ismaily won their third domestic title in 2002. He then went on to lead Egypt's youth team to the knockout stages of the 2003 FIFA U-20 World Cup in UAE, before making his senior debut a year later.
A player of startling presence, Abd-Rabou can thread the most
elegant of passes and is equally comfortable crashing into a
bone-rattling tackle, no doubt learned in his early days as a
centre-back. His clinical set pieces go a long way to making him a
"Being named the best player at the finals was a great honour for me," added the player, who since his award, has been linked to several big European clubs in England and France. "And I would like to pay tribute to my team-mates and coach Hassan Shehata."
Abd-Rabou believes Egypt fully deserved the title after overcoming continental powers like Côte d'Ivoire and Cameroon with a squad comprised almost entirely of locally-based players. "We had the best teamwork and the best tactics. That was our real strength in Ghana," he said.
Now the world?
Egyptian fans have often wondered why the national team can't seem to transfer their continental success to the world stage. They have progressed to the FIFA World Cup only twice, the first time in Italy in 1934 and once again in Italy 56 years later in 1990. On both occasions the Pharaohs failed to advance past the first stage of the global competition, sparking talk of Egyptian footballers as 'poor travellers.'
Reflecting on Egypt's chances of booking a place at the 2010 finals in South Africa - the first on the African continent - Abd-Rabou pointed to the secret of the team's success so far.
"Spirit is the crucial factor for us. The players' unbelievable fighting spirit was pivotal in helping us claim the Nations Cup title," he emphasised. "If we keep that spirit, I am sure we can finally progress to the most important competition in the world.
"Every player in Egypt dreams of playing in the World Cup," he added. The Egyptians currently lead African qualifying Group 12 with six points from two games, Abd-Rabou himself scoring in a recent 4-0 win over Djibouti.
The 2007 Egyptian player of the year is eyeing another move to
Europe, with Spain's Atletico Madrid and English Premier League
outfits Middlesbrough and Portsmouth reportedly leading the string
of interested clubs.
Considering his form in Africa's showpiece event and his ambitious approach, more offers should be rolling in soon.
Copyright AFRICAN FOOTBALL MEDIA (AFM)