Confederations Cup: Aboutrika and Egypt shine a light

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Egypt is the toast of the Confederations Cup just like Turkey were in the 2008 Euro which lifted much above its weight class.
An agonizing 4-3 loss to five time World Cup winner Brazil over a disputed Kaka goal in the 90th minute and now a 1-0 win over five time World Cup winner Italy. Small wonder it is being hailed as a historic victory for the Pharoahs.
Egypt’s display has shone a spotlight on Hassan Shehata, their strong willed and mercurial manager. He is famous for his discipline and his intolerance of prima donna like behaviour. The approach has paid off as the Egyptians have played selflessly.
Shehata has had his run ins with Mohamed Zidan, his star striker, who he famously declared in 2006, would never again be invited to play for the national side. He also showed a pragmatic streak by inviting him back in time for the 2008 ACN and his trust in Zidan paid off by as the Borussia Dortmund player’s scoring touch proved instrumental in Egypt winning the trophy. In the Confederation Cup, Zidan kept the Egypt effort against the Brazilians alive with his two goals.
The Egyptians are led by the exceptional Mohamed Aboutrika, a lifelong Al Ahli player who has steadfastly refused to leave his country’s shores. Shunning the limelight means overseas players playing for the big leagues like Samuel Eto’o, Frédéric Kanouté, Didier Drogba, and Emmanuel Adebayor pick up the African player award despite Aboutrika’s great achievements of leading his country to two ACN titles and Al Ahli to three African championships.
The Al Ahli man was in brilliant form against Brazil and he repeated that against Italy as he proved to be a handful for Gianluca Zambrotta and the rehabilitated Fabio Cannavaro. His quick vision sought out an unmarked Mohamed Homos, who made no mistakes with his captain’s dipping corner as he rose up to bury a powerful header between the sticks to seal Egypt’s historic win.
Aboutrika is not just a player, he is well known for his humility and dedication. He leads a country that apart from a few exceptions, consists entirely of Egyptian players. A devout Muslim, he believes in Zakat, or charity to the poor and needy, which constitutes one of the five pillars of Islam. As an ambassador to the WFP, he donates his time for fundraising charities and public service announcements to alleviate hunger and poverty amongst children.
“Every athlete has a humanitarian role in society,” says Aboutrika. “He doesn’t live solely for himself, but for others too. I like to participate in charity work and try my best to help the poor and penniless. I’m also seeking to use soccer in humanitarian work.”
A world apart from the self centered Cristiano Ronaldo. Strangely, his words bring a modicum of needed balance to a world gone mad with a glut of record breaking transfers as poor countries grapple with food security issues in these economically fragile times.
His choice of the 22 number jersey follows a similar spiritual journey.
“Before deciding which number to pick I went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. While I was walking between As-Safaa and Al-Marwah mountains, I saw the gate number 22 that the Prophet used to pass through and that’s why I decided to choose that number so that it would be a good omen for me in life.”
The Pharoahs have an excellent chance of making it to the semi-finals when they meet the USA on Sunday. The Italians have their work cut out for them against the Brazilians. Marcelo Lippi’s emphasis on forming relationships with players over tactical formations is not paying off. It assumes too much when new players are infused with a core of older players. This is not the World Cup which saw a group at their peak. Three years later, a number of show wear and tear with age and injuries catching up with them including Rini Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo, Luca Toni, Mauro Camoranesi, and Gianluca Zambrotta. The Italians resorted to a 4-3-3 which saw Gattuso struggling to widen the game on the right with Daniele De Rossi failing to do the same on the opposite flank. The only player who has consistently sparked is American born Giuseppe Rossi who raised hackles over here with his exuberant goal celebrations.
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