Olympic Football Tournaments London 2012 - Men

Olympic Football Tournaments London 2012 - Men

26 July - 11 August 2012

Olympic Football Tournaments 2012 - Men

The Arab stars who lit up London

Salah Mohamed (R) of Egypt celebrates
© Getty Images

The Olympic Football Tournaments at London 2012 drew to a close yesterday with medals hanging proudly around the necks of players from the top three men's teams.

The sides that missed out on podium finishes will hardly be leaving empty-handed, though, and the contenders from the Arab world can certainly take encouragement from their campaigns. Fans of Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Morocco watched with a mixture of enthusiasm and delight as they willed their heroes on to success on British soil.

Beyond the obvious focus on results and performances, supporters from those three nations were able to revel in some stunning individual displays as players defending their colours outshone several of the sport's biggest names.

As the world begins to reflect on the football action at London 2012, we highlight six Arab stars who proved their ability and captivated the crowds watching at home or in the stands.

Aboutrika's experience, Salah's skill
Mohamed Aboutrika was selected as one of the three over-age players in the Egypt squad and, having been handed the captain's armband, he did not disappoint. The midfield maestro was at the heart of the Pharaohs' efforts during their three group games and made a string of telling contributions, starting off by scoring his side's first against Brazil and helping them fight their way back into the match.

He then reacted to Egypt falling behind against Belarus by taking over playmaking duties and inspiring a three-goal riposte, notching the third himself as he and his team-mates booked a berth in the last eight.

Emirati football can be proud of this squad.

Aboutrika dreamed of going on to claim a medal but he never lost sight of the bigger picture, with the Olympic Tournament serving as a step on the road towards qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. "We want to do something exceptional and bring back a medal," he told FIFA.com in the run-up to London 2012. "We also have to give a good account of ourselves to prove our ability to qualify for the World Cup."

Alongside the veteran midfielder, Mohamed Salah gave notice of his superb potential as he announced himself as a rising star of the Egyptian game destined to prove a key figure for his country in the coming months.

The Pharaohs were suffering against Brazil at the Millennium Stadium when he made his tournament debut, but not only did he find the net shortly after entering the fray, with a little more luck he could even have rescued a draw. Drawing on his experience with FC Basel in the Swiss top flight, Salah then continued in the same vein and struck his team's first against Belarus as they won through to the quarter-finals.

Matar and Abdulrahman signal their arrival
Charged with leading the United Arab Emirates in their maiden Men's Olympic Football Tournament, coach Mahdi Redha called up forward Ismaeil Matar to spearhead the newcomers' cause.

It was a shrewd decision as Matar promptly fired his nation's first-ever goal at an Olympic Games when he found the target against Uruguay at Old Trafford. Despite two consecutive defeats, he never lost his competitive edge and got his name on the scoresheet against Senegal to help UAE leave the competition on a positive note.

"Participating in these Olympic Games was a dream come true," said Matar. "Thanks to God I got to take part and I was able to make an impact. It was a tough task leading the team, but I'm satisfied with my performances. Emirati football can be proud of this squad."

UAE's fine performances showed that qualification for the knockout phase was far from impossible, with their numerous attacks and slick ball circulation revealing their clear potential.

On the individual front, Omar Abdulrahman was another player to stand out in the attacking third and has reportedly caught the eye of English champions Manchester City. Whether he moves to the Premier League, finds another home in Europe or even stays at Al Ain, what is certain is that Abdulrahman will soon be the undisputed first-choice playmaker for UAE's senior team.

Kharja the creator, Barrada the finisher
Morocco bid London farewell after the group stage but they spurned an incalculable number of chances to seal their spot in the next round, failing to protect their lead against Honduras, missing several openings against Japan and holding their own against Spain.

The Atlas Lions have high hopes for the generation of talents coming through and that optimism appears well founded, even if the team were left packing their bags much earlier than expected.

This is the future of Moroccan football.

Among the players to catch the eye,Abdelaziz Barrada showed that his time with Getafe in Spain has served him in good stead, the midfielder registering a goal against Honduras and generally impressing high up the pitch. He could well emerge as a crucial asset to his national side as they target a place at Brazil 2014.

Youngsters such as Barrada were given valuable support by the senior figures in the squad, meanwhile, and captainHoussine Kharja provided a valuable link between defence and attack. A constant threat in the opposition area, he was nonetheless unable to find the net, meaning that his trip to Great Britain was brought to a premature stop.

Afterwards, the well-travelled stalwart – who has played in some of Europe's most prestigious leagues – was quick to underline the quality in the squad's ranks. "This is the future of Moroccan football," he explained.

"I hope they'll get the support they need to progress quickly. They're very talented and I'm convinced that with experience they'll achieve great things. We could have gone further but we were unlucky. I'm sad for my team-mates and our supporters, but we need to learn lessons from this failure."

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