AS a two-time champion in the Africa Cup of Nations with Egypt, Ahmed Elmohamady appreciates just how much next year’s finals mean to his native country.
Not least because, along with the fact the Pharaohs failed to qualify for the last three tournaments, Egyptian fans have, until recently, been banned from watching any live football as part of a clampdown that followed a riot in 2012 that left dozens dead.
With such importance placed on January’s finals in Gabon, Elmohamady will have no hesitation in accepting a call-up despite knowing that it could mean missing several key Premier League fixtures for Hull City.
He does, though, admit that the Tigers will be very much in his thoughts during what could be up to five weeks away from the KCOM Stadium on international duty.
“If I am selected (for the Cup of Nations), it will be disappointing to leave the team, but it is something I have to do for my country,” said the 29-year-old to The Yorkshire Post.
“I keep in touch easily with what is happening at Hull when away at a competition like the Africa Cup of Nations. Technology makes that possible and I will be watching all the games.
“We have Manchester United and Chelsea during that time so those games will definitely be shown all over the world.
“It will be a strange feeling, especially as in the last four years I have only missed two or three games for Hull.
“I am usually here when we play so to be away when Hull have a game is different. It makes things unusual for me.”
Elmohamady was part of the squads that won the Cup of Nations in 2008 and 2010. Those successes sparked joyous celebrations, especially the latter of those triumphs due to it meaning Egypt became the first nation to win three titles in a row.
Since then, however, has been a barren time with three consecutive failures to qualify for the finals. Throw in the domestic ban on fans imposed in the wake of the deadly clashes at Port Said Stadium four years ago that claimed 74 lives and it is no wonder Elmohamady and his team-mates are determined to give their countrymen something to cheer.
“The Cup of Nations is very, very big, especially for us in Egypt,” he said. “After we won it three times in a row and then didn’t qualify for three times in a row, now everyone is looking forward to it.
“It is the same with the World Cup. We are doing well in qualifying for that. We have not qualified for the World Cup in (more than) 25 years.
“After what has happened in the last five years in Egypt when we played without fans, now the fans are back (watching the national team) and that is good. In our last game, we had 80,000 people in the stadium. That was very good for the people.
“The fans had missed the football in the last five years and the Africa Cup of Nations is very important to us.”
Elmohamady’s last action for Hull before flying out to Gabon is likely to be the January 2 trip to West Bromwich Albion.
Coincidentally, the Baggies are today’s visitors to the KC Stadium for the first of seven fixtures before the end of 2016 that, Elmohamady accepts, are likely to have a big say in how Mike Phelan’s men fare this season. It is why he is determined that the Tigers will be in a strong position when he jets off in the new year.
“If I go away to the Africa Cup of Nations then it will be in January – that is several games from now,” he added. “Hopefully, I can go with us having got some points and higher up the table. That will be good for us all.
“We have some big games coming up. It is an important period. Christmas is always like that as well. But we need points from these games. If we can get those points, it will take us to a good position in the table.”
Elmohamady is in his fifth season with Hull and has experienced plenty of ups and downs. The highs have included two promotions plus an FA Cup final appearance, while the 2015 relegation came as a bitter blow.
His move to the East Riding was the second time he had been signed by Steve Bruce, who after initial success with Amr Zaki at Wigan Athletic had targeted Egyptian football as an untapped potential market for quality players.
It means the winger is in his sixth season in the Premier League and, therefore, a good judge of how strong this season’s competition is compared to previous years.
“It is still early, but I do think this Premier League is the toughest I have played in,” he said. “As players, though, we have to clear our minds of this and just play our usual game.
“It was the same when we didn’t have a (permanent) manager (following Bruce’s summer departure). We have one now and we all really like him. We are enjoying working with him and looking forward to the rest of the season. Of course, it can be difficult, but we concentrate on our football.”
Last weekend’s 3-0 loss at Sunderland was harsh, especially in terms of the scoreline with the Tigers creating several decent chances in an entertaining contest.
There was, though, no glossing over the fact Hull had lost to a team with just one previous victory and there needs to be a response over the next five games, which include meetings with four teams sitting just above Mike Phelan’s men in the table.
“We have to stay positive at Hull,” said Elmohamady. “There is lots of experience around the changing room, players that have been in the Premier League for a long time.
“The same with the manager. We have been talking about how big the Premier League is and how we have to stay in it.
“It keeps us positive. We were down after Sunderland, but the gaffer talked to us in training, as did Macca. That helps keep everyone positive. We have to take that into the game against West Brom. All the staff are good like that, and the lads, we are all positive.
“We are one point away from (fourth bottom) West Ham and three points would take us to a good position in the table. That is why West Brom is an important game. They had a good win (on Monday, when beating Burnley 4-0), but we want the points to get us out of the bottom three. That is important.”