From 2006 to 2010, Egypt won the African Cup of Nations three times in a row. This feat, which has never been matched in the history of the competition, came while the Egyptians were playing a fast-paced, counter-attacking style that its opponents could not live with. The era, known as the Hassan Shehata era, marked out the Pharaohs as the best team in Africa by a distance.
The game that I remember that great side of El Hadary, Mohamed Aboutrika, Wael Gomaa and the likes is the demolition of Cameroon in the 2008 AFCON finals held in Ghana. That Egypt triumphed in those three AFCON tournaments held in Burkina Faso, Ghana and Angola, despite not appearing in any world cup during those years, is a mystery that I cannot begin to explain.
Seeing the Egyptian Pharaohs dismantling a solid Cameroonian side that had the likes of Geremi Njitap, Rigobert Song, Carlos Kameni, Samuel Eto’o with such ease, for me, remains one of my favourite memories of the African Cup of Nations of all time. The Egyptians went on to beat the same side, Cameroon, in the final, 1-0, still scored by the smiling assassin Mohamed Aboutrika.
And the fact that Egypt can be so successful in African Cup of Nations, while being so bad at qualifying for World Cups only adds to their legend in my view. Picture this: Egypt has never won a single match in the World Cup, and only made their second appearance in 28 years in this year’s Russia 2018 showpiece. They proceeded to lose all three matches to Russia, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay.
But when it comes to the African Cup of Nations, Egypt has won it seven times. That’s three times more than anyone has triumphed in the competition. And three of those times were between 2006 and 2010.
There are many names to remember from that great Egyptian side, from the problematic strikers Mido and Zaki, the brilliantly named Zidan, Mohamed Aboutrika, the goalkeeper El Hadary, the wingback Fathi….the captain Ahmed Hassan…even the legendary coach Hassan Shehata, it was simply a side packed with legends, many of whom played their football in Egypt for sides such as Al Ahly, Zamalek and Ismaily.
The footballer I remember most from that brilliant Egypt side is Mohamed Aboutrika. Known by many as “the Prince of Hearts”, the smiling assassin, Aboutrika is in my view one of the best footballers Africa has produced in the last 20 years who played his best football in Africa for Al Ahly, racking up a significant number of CAF Champions League titles, Egyptian league titles and AFCON trophies.
Aboutrika was a second striker, very similar in build and style of play to Brazil’s Kaka. He was all about speed, gliding across the pitch, great in counters and scoring goals. His record stands at 271 appearances for club and country, scoring a remarkable 116 goals in the process.
The fact that he is now on Egpyt’s terrorist list and living in exile in Qatar is a deeply disturbing fact for me, and an issue that the Egyptian regime’s deeply dictatorial government must resolve, and be called out for bringing about. Africans must condemn the madness that one of the greatest players the continent has ever produced is a persona non grata in his own country.
Mohamed Aboutrika’s career honours
Mohamed Aboutrika was a player who was a joy to watch, a player who always seemed to have a smile on his face, a player who was a standout for easily the most dominant club side Africa has ever seen (Al Ahly) and a player who is the most identifiable with the Egypt side which won every title going on the continent from 2006 to 2010.
While Egypt has a new hero in their side (Mohamed Salah) one that was the best player in England in the season 2017-2018, it will not forget the Prince of Hearts, Africa’s Zidane, and one of the best footballers Africa has produced in many a decade. The dictatorial Sisi regime may deem him a terrorist, but to many football lovers across the continent, he is the man that made us smile when we watched him play.