After missing out on three consecutive major tournaments, Egypt need to use their recent CAF Africa Cup of Nations flop as an incentive to end a lengthy FIFA World Cup™ drought, veteran playmaker Mohamed Aboutrika insisted recently.
“Of course our Nations Cup defeat was a big loss, but we still have to take advantage of the ordeal and turn it into a blessing in the World Cup qualifiers,” the Al Ahly man told FIFA.com. “We have a good chance to qualify for the World Cup, we just need to exert lots of effort during the coming period.”
The positive attitude is perhaps not surprising given that the 33-year-old is known in Egypt as ‘The Saint’ for his mild temperament, but there is no way to downplay the shock of the Pharaohs defeat in the continental qualifiers by Central African Republic. The 4-3 aggregate loss means the seven-time African champions will miss out on the 2013 AFCON to go along with their disappointing 2012 campaign as well as the pain of missing out on the first African World Cup.
The defeat has also heaped pressure on Egypt’s American coach Bob Bradley, who had been winning rave reviews since replacing the highly successful Hassan Shehata in November last year. Although some called for the coach to be sacked as Egypt desperately try to reach their first FIFA World Cup since 1990, Aboutrika rejects the idea and says patience is a must as the country continues to deal with the aftermath of an uprising and ongoing security concerns.
He said: “The political circumstances in Egypt definitely affected the national team’s displays. Bradley should be credited for the work he has done so far and for the fact that he did not abandon the team in such a difficult phase. He is working in exceptional circumstances, and I believe he should remain in charge of the national team.”
Vintage displays win Olympic spot
Aboutrika has also defied his own doubters with some high-quality displays of late that showed his touch of magic remains as powerful as it used to be. Recently he has scored a hat-trick for Al Ahly to lift them to the CAF Champions League group stage, produced a dazzling performance in Egypt’s 2-0 win over Mozambique and netted twice in their 3-2 win over Guinea. The fine run of form has prompted Egypt’s Olympic team coach Hany Ramzy to include Aboutrika in his squad for the London Games as one of the three over-age players along with club-mates Ahmed Fathi and Emad Meteb.
“It’s an honor for me to represent Egypt in such an important competition. I cannot turn down any invitation to play for the national team,” said the player, who has scored ten goals in 19 FIFA World Cup qualifiers in his career.
Before London 2012, Aboutrika is due to line up with Ahly in an highly anticipated CAF Champions League battle against arch-rivals Zamalek on 22 July. Six-time African champions Ahly claimed a last-gasp 2-1 victory over DR Congo’s TP Mazembe in their opening Group B game while Zamalek, in contrast, conceded a stoppage-time goal to lose 3-2 to Ghana’s Berekum Chelsea in Accra. Aboutrika had a hand in Ahly’s opener against Mazembe, his deft pass down the left releasing winger Walid Soliman, who pulled the ball back for Meteb to finish.
“We’ve made a very good start especially that we overcame one of the title favorites. We played much better than many people expected, given the exceptional circumstances the Egyptian football is going through,” the classy playmaker said referencing the fact that all domestic soccer in the country has been suspended since the Port Said tragedy in February. “Actually it’s the best start we have made to the group stage in three years. In 2009, we did not qualify for the group stage, in 2010 we drew 1-1 with Nigeria’s Heartland in the first game and in 2011 we were held to a 3-3 draw at home to Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca.
"Such a start will motivate us to continue with the same spirit that we are using to compensate for the absence of our fans. I was very sad with Zamalek’s defeat, but I’m sure both clubs can go far in the tournament if the fans are allowed back to the stands. A triumph for either club will be a great achievement to Egyptian football in such a difficult phase.”