In­ter­view: El­mo­hamady comes back down to Earth after whirl­wind 48 hours

Sport360 - - Front Page - @ReemAbulleil By Reem Abulleil reemabulleil@sport360.com

On Sun­day night, one of the most mys­te­ri­ous droughts in in­ter­na­tional foot­ball fi­nally came to an end – Egypt beat Congo in a thriller at Borg El Arab to make their first World Cup since 1990, and just their third over­all.

In front of 85,000 fans, 30-year-old Ahmed El­mo­hamady was subbed on in the 88th minute. Egypt were lead­ing 1-0 but Congo equalised two min­utes from time be­fore Mo Salah scored a penalty in the dy­ing mo­ments to seal the Pharaohs’ place in Rus­sia 2018.

Ev­ery Egyp­tian watch­ing moved from hope to de­spair to ec­stasy… and El­mo­hamady him­self strug­gles to find the right words to de­scribe it all.

We caught up with the As­ton Villa winger to find out how it feels to be part of this his­toric feat, 10 years on from his Egypt de­but.

Q I’m sure the last 48 hours have been wild, how do you feel about se­cur­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tion to the 2018 World Cup?

A Ev­ery­one was wait­ing for some­thing like this and peo­ple re­ally needed some­thing to bring them joy. Thank­fully we’ve man­aged to be the rea­son to make the en­tire na­tion happy. If you look at the sta­dium dur­ing the game and after the game, peo­ple were ec­static and re­ally felt hap­pi­ness from the bot­tom of their hearts.

It’s a huge thing that this gen­er­a­tion has etched its name in the his­tory books and has ended the curse we’ve suf­fered from in pre­vi­ous qual­i­fi­ca­tion cam­paigns.

You’ve had a long ca­reer, can you com­pare how you felt dur­ing this game to any­thing you’ve ex­pe­ri­enced in the past?

The player on the pitch is only think­ing about the match. But for us, sit­ting on the bench, we could hear who is say­ing what, the fans, and could see ev­ery at­tack­ing play we make… it was an in­de­scrib­able feel­ing.

It’s been the ul­ti­mate dream – if you look at the sta­dium, we’ve never seen any­thing like it. I was at the play-off game against Al­ge­ria in 2009, and the qual­i­fi­ca­tion cir­cum­stances were sim­i­lar, but I’ve never seen hap­pi­ness like I’ve seen at the Congo game.

How did those last few min­utes go for you, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing the crowd?

There are a lot of young play­ers on our team who have never been put in sit­u­a­tions like this and it is a very valu­able life les­son for them. To score a goal and cel­e­brate, and feel so close to the win, then con­cede a goal in the last four min­utes, then score an in­jury­time win­ner… this is a les­son learned for ev­ery player that was on the pitch. After they scored a goal, you could see the de­ter­mi­na­tion in each one of our play­ers.

How were you guys feel­ing ahead of the Congo match? Were you con­fi­dent?

We all watched the game be­tween Ghana and Uganda the day be­fore our match and from the mo­ment it ended in a draw we felt re­ally op­ti­mistic about our chances.

We were all re­ally happy but we did our best to keep it inside un­til we won our match. We were so happy they drew be­cause we felt that we were lit­er­ally just one step away from the World Cup, but we made sure we post­poned any cel­e­bra­tions and bot­tled up our feel­ings un­til after our own match.

This squad has man­aged to achieve what the ‘Golden Gen­er­a­tion’ of Mo­hamed Abou-Trika and Co. weren’t able to. How do you ex­plain the suc­cess?

I think we just got luck­ier with this gen­er­a­tion, and we worked so hard. I could never say any­thing neg­a­tive about the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion be­cause it in­cluded le­gends and they were all so tal­ented.

This gen­er­a­tion is young and it lacks ex­pe­ri­ence so all credit to these play­ers for pulling this off. And credit to the tech­ni­cal staff un­der the guid­ance of Hec­tor Cu­per. He has ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence, play­ing lots of fi­nals and cru­cial games. He spoke to the play­ers and man­aged the game in a spe­cial way.

Cu­per has been crit­i­cised about his de­fen­sive style through­out qual­i­fy­ing…

Ev­ery coach, no mat­ter the results, will al­ways face crit­i­cism. But I find this crit­i­cism com­pletely mis­placed and mis­guided. You’re a man­ager brought in to coach a na­tional eam, with a man­date to take this team to the World Cup. Which­ever way you’ve man­aged to ac­com­plish that, that doesn’t mat­ter… you have done what you’ve been asked of. Hec­tor Cu­per’s name will re­main for­ever in Egyp­tian foot­ball his­tory. I truly hope he re­mains with the na­tional team for a long time be­cause he is very spe­cial. All the play­ers like him, and so do all staff mem­bers. I re­ally hope they re­new his con­tract after the World Cup.

Salah is con­sid­ered a na­tional hero, what can you tell us about him?

Mo­hamed out­side of foot­ball is a very re­spectable per­son. He is close to God and is a very gen­er­ous man, who does a lot of phil­an­thropic work. He’s also a hard-worker. I’ve known him for a very long time, since he was at Arab Con­trac­tors club when he was young, and we both hail from the same town. He’s very pop­u­lar among the play­ers, who have helped him a lot on the pitch as well.

As you said, the squad mainly con­sists of young play­ers, is it fair to ex­pect more from them in Rus­sia 2018?

There’s still plenty of time but we must pre­pare very well and surely the FA will make sure we play friendlies against strong teams in the build-up. Re­cently we’ve only been play­ing African sides so we need to get used to play­ing Euro­pean and South Amer­i­can teams. We need the ex­po­sure, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that many of our play­ers are young. That will be use­ful for us at the World Cup.

The FA will prob­a­bly wait for the draw to see what kind of teams will land in our group so they can plan our friendlies.

Is there a team you dream of fac­ing?

There’s Spain, Brazil, Ger­many… of course, we all dream to face such teams but ev­ery team at the World Cup will have its own stars and its own his­tory so we’re look­ing for­ward to fac­ing them all I must say.

What does play­ing in a World Cup mean to you per­son­ally?

It’s been our dream all our life, to com­pete at such a huge stage. Look at Es­sam El Hadary, who will be 45 years old next year, he’s been fight­ing all his life to make the World Cup. I hope that I end up be­ing one of the peo­ple play­ing in Rus­sia.

This gen­er­a­tion has etched its name in the his­tory books

ON THE TEAM’S LEGACY

Ev­ery coach, no mat­ter the results, will al­ways face crit­i­cism. But I find the crit­i­cism com­pletely mis­placed and mis­guided

ON CRIT­I­CISM OF CU­PER

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