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