Sunday 25 September 2016, 02:22

Egypt’s Elashwal training his sights on Argentina

Three years ago Abdelrahman Elashwal was earning a living as a delivery boy at his father’s laundry, scooting around on his little motorbike through the streets of Giza, the city that is home to the most famous pyramids on the planet.

As the 22-year-old Elashwal himself explained, his life took a whole new direction when his father suggested he try his luck with a local football club. Given the choice, he opted for futsal instead, a decision he has since shown to be the right one, not least by inspiring Egypt to a ground-breaking defeat of Italy in the Round of 16 of the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016.

“It’s hard to describe just how happy we felt at knocking Italy out,” the young pivot told The scorer of a hat-trick in his side’s momentous 4-3 win, he added, with understandable pride in his voice: “Nobody believed in us as much as we believed in ourselves, and here we are. We’re the champions of Africa and one of the eight best teams in the world.”

Though it might have gone unnoticed by most fans, the Egyptians needed little motivating before the Italy tie, as the No3 explained: “Some of their players said on social media that they were going to qualify, that they were confident they were going to beat us. That drove us on even more.”

The smiling Elashwal added that the number on his back is increasingly important to him: “It’s what I wear at my club and I asked to have it for this World Cup. And then I got three goals against Italy! It’s my lucky number for sure.”

Nobody believed in us as much as we believed in ourselves, and here we are.

The next hurdle The most of important of those three goals was his extra-time winner: “When I saw the defender slip, I knew I was going to get on the ball and have just the keeper to beat. I said to myself: ‘Stay calm and keep it simple’. So I went round him and on to my left foot. I can hardly remember how I celebrated the goal.”

Elashwal, who stands 5’7 (1.70m) tall, is one of eight Misr Lel-Makkasa Sporting Club players in the Egypt squad. Though the club is based in the city of Fayoum, he lives in Cairo where he is studying Commerce. Waiting for him there is his girlfriend, with wedding plans to be made.

For the moment, however, his thoughts are elsewhere, namely on the upcoming quarter-final against Argentina, who are in form and have beaten Egypt on their last two meetings at the world finals: 4-3 at Guatemala 2000 and 4-2 at Brazil 2008.

“We know them pretty well,” said Elashwal. “They play an attacking game but they also defend well. I don’t think there’s a clear-cut favourite for this game. It’s going to be an interesting match to play and to watch.”

As Egypt’s young goalgetter went on to explain, however, he and his team-mates need to be in the right frame of mind to face the Argentinians: “We can’t just settle for knocking Italy out. We know it was a huge emotional high for us, but we want more, and we’ll be mentally ready to take on Argentina.”