Abd-Rabou: Missing 2006 made me hungry
CAIRO (AFM) - Hosni Abd Rabou pulled out of the Egyptian squad with a hamstring injury just hours before the Pharaohs' opener against Libya on home soil in Cairo on 20 January 2006, making way, tearfully, for then-Zamalek midfielder and understudy Moataz Eno.

"I was so downhearted, missing out on such a huge event at home was very hard to swallow," Abd-Rabou told African Football Media.  "I suffered from an overwhelming depression afterwards. My performances for [French side] Strasbourg at that time was notably worse because I wasn't mentally prepared to play games. It took some time for me to recover and reach my peak again."

However, all the pain and anguish that accompanied missing out on that victorious campaign in 2006 doubled the 23 year old’s hunger and desire to perform this year, and the in-form, all-action midfielder turned in some inspired displays to lead Egypt to a record sixth Cup of Nations triumph. After putting in some boisterous displays, he earned praise from the likes of former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho and French World Cup winner Marcel Desailly.

Spirit over star power
Abd-Rabou, who scored four goals to help Egypt muscle their way to glory, was voted Player of the Tournament even with the presence of household names like Samuel Eto’o of Cameroon and Ivorian Didier Drogba. " I was so motivated to give it my all this year in order to compensate for not playing in the previous edition at home that really the 2006 disappointment did me a huge favour," Abd-Rabou confessed.

"Being named the best player at the finals was a great honour for me also,” added the player, currently on extended loan at Egyptian side El Ismaily from Strasbourg. “And I would like to pay tribute to my teammates and head coach Hassan Shehata, who supported me during the campaign."

The 23 year-old believes Egypt fully deserved the title after overcoming continental powers like Côte d'Ivoire and Cameroon with a squad comprised, primarily, of locally-based players. "We had the best teamwork and the best tactics. We demonstrated our strength in Ghana."

Now the world?

Egyptian fans have often wondered why their national team can’t seem to transfer that success to the world stage. They have progressed to the FIFA World Cup only twice, the first time in Italy in 1934 and once again in Italy 56 years later in 1990. On both occasions the Pharaohs failed to advance past the first stage of the global competition, sparking talk of Egyptian football as ‘poor travellers.’

Reflecting on Egypt's chances of booking a place at the 2010 finals in South Africa - the first on the mother continent - Abd-Rabou pointed to the secret of the team’s success so far.

"Spirit is a crucial factor for us. The players' unbelievable fighting spirit was pivotal in helping us claim the Nations Cup title," he emphasised. "If we maintain that spirit, I am sure we can finally progress to the most important competition in the world. Every single player in Egypt dreams of playing in the World Cup."

Although he is currently riding a wave of international success, Abd Rabou is not guaranteed a return to European football. "I'm waiting for a Court of Arbitration for Sport [CAS] verdict to decide on my next step,” he insisted. “But I'm eager to move abroad once again."

The midfielder is in the middle of a tug-of-war between Strasbourg, the French club that owns his contract and Ismaily, where he was loaned in the summer of 2006. The Egyptian side wanted to make the move permanent, but allegedly failed to make the necessary payment to Strasbourg on time. As a result the French club re-called Abd-Rabou for training.  However, the player did not return and continued to play for Ismaily.

Return to Europe
Abd-Rabou told African Football Media that he is desperate to return to Europe, but that he won’t make the mistake of jumping at an offer after the CAS’ decision. "I do not regret leaving Strasbourg after just one season of joining them. They were relegated to the second division, and I had no other alternative but to return home," he said. "I will only depart Ismaily if I receive an offer from a high-profile club."

So far the only solid bid has been from Qatari side Al-Sadd. "They want to sign me on loan until the season's end, and I'm willing to go there if my case is resolved in the near future," the player said.

Considering his form in Africa’s showpiece event, the offers are surely not going to stop there.

Copyright AFRICAN FOOTBALL MEDIA, 2008

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