In the build-up to this year’s Confederations Cup (exactly 12 days away) let’s reminisce over another team’s thrilling performance. The Pharaohs of the Egyptian National Team, the CAF African Cup of Nations 2009 champions, etched an indelible mark on my footballing brain those two weeks they played. I was actually hoping they wouldn’t go that far because they always won the African Cup of Nations and I wanted another African team, like South Africa, to advance far into the tournament. But their games against Italy, and especially Brazil, won my heart over.
In a very tough group (with Italy, Brazil, and the United States) Egypt was not touted to qualify to the semi-finals and were probably predicted to finish last. And that’s exactly what happened. They did finish at the bottom of the group. However, The Pharaohs narrowly missed out on the semifinals by one goal, as the United States, Italy, and Egypt each had three points. In their last group game, Egypt lost 3-0 to the United States. If they made it 3-1, they would’ve advanced to the semifinals. But despite that loss, their two marquee group games before that against Italy and Brazil highlighted the talent of the Egyptian National Team.
Mohamed Aboutrika pulling the strings
In this tournament, it was my first time hearing about the respected Mohamed Aboutrika, and he epitomized the talent of the team.
His unselfish play has been lauded by many prior to the Confederations Cup and it was certainly on display in the tournament. In the 1-0 victory against the reigning World Cup champions Italy, Aboutrika delivered a teasing cross from a corner kick that met the head of midfielder Mohamed Homos. In the dramatic 4-3 opening loss to Brazil, Aboutrika quietly had a huge impact in their comeback from a 3-1 deficit. His cross to Mohamed Zidan in the first half was even better, as it was a first-time ball placed perfectly between the Brazilian defenders Juan and Maicon. In the second half, Aboutrika made a key pass to the overlapping left-back Sayed Moawad, who then assisted Mohamed Shawky’s goal, making it 3-2. Seconds later, Egypt retrieved the ball from Brazil and were on an Aboutrika-led counter-attack. He played a perfect through ball, dissecting Brazil’s defense once again, and found Zidan as he struck the ball ferociously past Júlio César, tying the game 3-3.
Aboutrika had a total of three assists in three games, the joint leader of assists in the tournament. A player of his quality had many opportunities to play in Europe, but he spent the majority of his career in Egypt, playing for legendary club Al-Ahly. In the 2006 FIFA Club World Cup, after having won the CAF Champions League, Al Ahly finished third-place and Aboutrika was the top goal scorer in the tournament. He has been nominated three times for the African Footballer of the Year, finishing runner-up to Emmanuel Adebayor in 2008. He has amassed four African Best Player of the Year awards (awarded to the best African player playing club football in Africa). Aboutrika has been a phenomenal servant to The Pharaohs. Albeit brief, his performance in the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup shouldn’t go unnoticed and be considered a testament to his legacy.