A year after Afcon exit, Mohamed Salah and Trezeguet are walking tall for Egypt in Premier League
Salah is a title winner and Trezeguet and Elmohammady have given Aston Villa fighting chance of survival
A year ago this week was a testing time to be an Egyptian footballer.
Hidden from public view, Mahmoud Trezeguet, Mohamed Salah, Ahmed Elmohamady and Ahmed Hegazi watched wistfully as an Africa Cup of Nations that was supposed to be all theirs came to its conclusion in the Cairo International stadium. Algeria, rivals as fierce as any for Egypt, lifted the trophy, 1-0 victors over Senegal.
In the crowd, many Egyptians were still muttering about the hosts’ great flop, wondering how the pre-tournament favourites had contrived to be eliminated in the last 16 by a South Africa who had not won a knockout tie in a Cup of Nations away from home for almost 20 years.
Salah looked close to tears when Egypt’s campaign came to its premature end. Hegazi dropped to the turf as the final whistle blew on South Africa’s shock 1-0 win. Captain Elmohamady sensed he would come under particular fire once the game’s winning goal started being replayed again and again. It showed him chasing the goalscorer, Thembinkosi Lorch, in vain, Egypt having allowed the South African to slip into unguarded space.
Trezeguet would also be haunted by the highlights. Twice he had burst into positions for a generously angled shot at goal. Both times he patted his efforts weakly at the South African goalkeeper.
Twelve months on, and with the angry reaction of Egypt’s fans slowly receding into the rear-view mirror, these fallen Pharaohs are finishing the longest year of their professional lives with fresh adventures.
Salah on Wednesday lifted a Premier League trophy that his club, Liverpool, have been missing from their honours list for longer than Salah, 28, has been alive. It would be hard to overemphasise the impact he has made on returning the European Cup, last season, and the championship of England to Anfield. The pity for Salah is those two historic club triumphs did not sandwich a first Nations Cup success for Egypt’s greatest footballer of the last decade.
Hegazi’s club season has had dramatic ups and downs. The West Bromwich Albion defender has come through injuries, a confrontation with his coach Slaven Bilic which for a period cost him his place in the team, to play an authoritative part in Championship West Brom’s to-the-wire bid to reclaim their place in a Premier League where Hegazi made such a strong impression when he first moved to WBA from Al Ahly in 2017.
But the most fashionable Pharaoh in middle England this week is Trezeguet, the winger with the nickname borrowed from a legendary finisher of the past.
His knack of scoring vital goals has carried Aston Villa, the club he joined just after the Nations Cup, to within 90 minutes of saving, against the odds, their Premier League status.
Villa, anchored in the relegation zone since early March, when matches were suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak, climbed out of it on Tuesday at Arsenal thanks to the sort of goal you might easily find in the showreel of David Trezeguet, Juventus great and French World Cup winner of the late 1990s and 2000s: a goal precisely and powerfully struck, and with some of the opportunism the Trezeguet of Egypt inflicted on Crystal Palace nine days earlier.
For Dean Smith, the Villa manager who travelled to Cairo last summer to watch Trezeguet at the Nations Cup and give the OK for Villa’s purchase from Kasimpasa in Turkey, this golden streak is vindication of his faith. “It’s taken him a while in terms of adaptation,” said Smith, “but his attitude and work-rate are spot on.”
Trezeguet’s pair of goals in the 2-0 win over Palace, and the decider in the 1-0 victory over Arsenal account for six of the seven points Villa eked from their last three games, arming them for Sunday’s trip to West Ham United.
If Villa, 17th, can match 18th-placed Watford’s result at Arsenal then they would avoid the drop, unless they both lose and 19th-placed Bournemouth win at Everton.
The scenario could scarcely be more tense, and it is hard not to feel for Villa’s Elmohamady. He suffered an injury against Arsenal that puts him in doubt for West Ham, having been praised by Smith for his contributions to the three-match unbeaten run - “he’s shown all his class and experience”, said the Villa manager.
And Villa could do with all the 32-year-old right-back's specialist knowhow. Elmohamady, formerly of Sunderland and Hull City, has been in English football for a decade, known two relegations from the Premier League, and two promotions. He went through a play-off final heartbreak with Villa in 2018. He suffered in Cairo a year later. Relegation in 2020 would seem a cruel hat-trick.
Updated: July 23, 2020 07:04 AM