- Mahmoud Trezeguet helped Egypt end their 28-year World Cup drought
- A favourite of coach Hector Cuper, he has been a key figure for two years
- Trezeguet says playing in the World Cup is a 'childhood dream'
Egypt star Mahmoud Hassan 'Trezeguet' can pride himself on having earned the confidence of coach Hector Cuper, becoming a stalwart of the team set to dispute the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
Fresh from helping the Pharoahs book their ticket in the African Zone qualifiers, he is now focused on shining on the global stage. That may well explain why he is currently impressing with Turkish club Kasimpasa, his form making him undroppable in the Egypt line-up, along with Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah.
FIFA.com caught up with Trezeguet after Egypt's training camp in Switzerland and their excellent performance against Portugal. He spoke about the team's difficult qualifying campaign, his motivation to succeed and much more besides.
FIFA.com: The World Cup is fast approaching. What does it mean to you to be able to play in this competition?
Mahmoud Trezeguet: I've dreamed about it since I was little. Every footballer hopes to play in a World Cup one day. I've worked very hard over the last few years to make this dream come true. Before he died, my father asked me to help Egypt return to the World Cup. I really wish he was able to see my performances for the national team. I'm proud to have achieved his wish and I dedicate my World Cup participation to him.
The road to Russia was long and bumpy. When did you feel your dream might be within reach?
There are no easy matches in Africa. We started the second round of qualifiers with a [1-0] defeat against Chad. We won the return game [4-0], but that loss was a warning and woke us up to our responsibilities. Each time the squad got together, we told ourselves we couldn't waste this chance, and we focused on our training sessions and matches without worrying about the critics. We felt our goal was difficult to achieve, but that we could fulfil the dream of everybody in Egypt with patience and hard work.
Our qualification was not only down to the players and the coaching staff. The national association helped us a lot as well, as did the media and the fans. Our clubs also realised the importance of the national team and, thanks to God, our efforts were rewarded.
You are an important player in Hector Cuper's team, but you were a substitute for the crucial game against Congo DR at Borg El Arab Stadium. What do you remember about that game, which exploded into life in the final half an hour?
After the draw between Uganda and Ghana the day before, our place in the finals was virtually guaranteed, and our supporters were already celebrating in the stands. We knew the game would be difficult because Congo had nothing to lose. The first half ended 0-0, and I came on in the second. We went ahead thanks to a goal from Mohamed Salah, but we knew we needed another one to give us breathing space. But then the unthinkable happened with two minutes left: Congo scored. It was like being struck by lightning.
Trezeguet's national team statistics
World Cup qualifiers: 6 games (4 as a starter), 356 minutes
2017 CAF Africa Cup of Nations: 6 games (all as a starter), 484 minutes
FIFA U-20 World Cup 2013: 3 games (all as a starter), 240 minutes
Trezeguet's Al Ahly statistics
One league title and two Egyptian Super Cups
Two CAF Champions League titles, one CAF Confederation Cup and two CAF Super Cups
Two FIFA Club World Cup campaigns (2012 and 2013)
What was the team going through during that dramatic climax to the game? And how were you able to help turn the game around?
Any other time, the players' heads might have dropped, but we pulled ourselves together. We put them under pressure during injury time, and I took up position in their area. A ball came in, but a defender knocked me over. The second time, I decided to launch myself at the ball whatever happened. I got fouled and we were awarded a penalty, which Salah converted. At that moment, we felt our dream was coming true, and our qualification was wrapped up at the final whistle. It was a historic match: we made the whole of Egypt happy, as well as every Arab who'd been supporting us in that game.
How do you rate Egypt's chances in your World Cup group?
It's a tough group. Russia will be playing at home in front of their own fans. Uruguay have already won this competition and have some great players. The game against Saudi Arabia will be like a derby. To qualify, we'll need to prepare well and arrive in Russia full of confidence and focused on our task. We'll need to play each match as if it were a final. We have to treat our friendly against Portugal, the European champions, as a reference point. We mustn't fear any team at the World Cup.
Despite being only 23, you have Cuper's full confidence. How do you intend on keeping your starting place at the World Cup?
Since I was very young, I've always worked extremely hard in training and that's showed in my performances on the pitch. Under Cuper, I seized my chance as soon as it came and I've kept working hard. He's a coach who really respects players who put in a lot of effort during matches and stick to the tactical game plan. That's how I managed to win his faith, and I played in all our qualifiers. Last year, I even got to appear at the Africa Cup of Nations. I thank him for all he's done for me and I promise him I'll improve even more in the weeks to come.
Turning to your club career, you decided to leave Al Ahly to play in Europe. How would you judge the last two years?
It wasn't an easy decision to take but it was necessary at the time. I joined Anderlecht, where I didn't get to play, but I carried on working. I was loaned out to Mouscron last season, and there I was able to show what I can do. My decision to leave for Kasimpasa came in for a lot of criticism, but I wanted to prove that I could play in a competitive championship. I think my statistics speak for themselves (28 games as a starter, 11 goals and five assists). This has been an even better season for me than the last one and I thank everyone who congratulates me every week. It's all the result of a long period of work.