It was with tired eyes and slumped shoulders that a dejected Ibrahim Eika appeared at the entrance to the dressing rooms at the Coliseo Ivan de Bedout in Medellin. With Egypt having just lost 5-0 to Argentina in the quarter-finals of the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016, it was the end of an exciting adventure for the Pharaohs No7.
“We were running on empty,” said Eika in calm yet sad voice, reflecting on his side’s 40-minute nightmare against the Argentinians. “We came up short in every area. We lacked strength and concentration. We’d given everything we had against Italy.” There can be no question about that. Eika and his team-mates invested all their energies in beating La Squadra Azzurra 4-3 in the last 16, a game in which they took the lead three times before finishing the job off in extra-time.
In battling their way past the Italians, Egypt checked into the quarter-finals of the competition for the first time in their history. Asked to pick out a highlight of their ground-breaking run, the 28-year-old defender summoned up a smile and said: “That match against Italy. I’ll never forget that win or the feeling of excitement that came with the fourth goal.”
Despite the heavy defeat to Argentina, Eika accentuated the positive as he took stock of Egypt’s Colombia 2016 campaign: “I’m a little disappointed because I really would have liked to have made the semi-finals. We’re going to finish seventh or eighth but we’ve had a really good tournament.” There can be no arguing about that, especially as Egyptian futsal is still very much in its infancy.
A happy homecoming
The north African nation lacks a domestic championship, severely limiting the options open to team coach Hesham Saleh, who had this to say after his side’s exit: “I have only about seven or eight players who are good enough for a Futsal World Cup.” Discussing Egypt’s lack of international exposure, Eika, the smallest player in the tournament at 5’3 (1.59m), said: “Only Mostafa Nader and Moza have taken part in the world finals before. The rest of us are all making our debuts at this level, and I only came into the national team a couple of years ago.”
The Pharaohs* *hope their compelling run in Colombia will help make the sport more popular back home, while Eika, who plays his club futsal for Misr El-Makasa, would like to see the national team in action more often and for their results to get more coverage: “It would be great to play teams like Spain, Argentina, Italy and Brazil more regularly. We’d make a lot faster progress.”
In the meantime, the Egyptians will now have to pack their bags and head back home, though Eika is thrilled at the prospect of seeing his parents, wife and three-year-old daughter Maya again. They too will no doubt be excited at the return of their Futsal World Cup hero. Though they have been chatting every day online, the doting young father has plenty of stories to tell his little girl.
With head held high, shoulders straight and a smile restored to his face, Eika headed off to join his colleagues on the team bus. He had good reason to feel pleased with himself. Despite the defeat to Argentina, Colombia 2016 has been a very satisfying experience for Egypt.