Although the Eagle Owls did not make it to this year’s World Cup finals in Russia, one corner of Finnish football is rooting for Egypt thanks to an unexpected flying visit from one of their star players.
Abdallah Said, who spent time this Spring playing for KuPs in Finland’s Veikkausliiga, was named in the 23-man Egyptian squad heading to Russia.
He arrived in Finland in April 2018 on a loan deal amidst huge controversy over his proposed move from Egyptian Premier League side Al-Ahly to their arch rivals Zamalek.
His arrival in eastern Finland prompted a flood of abusive, Arabic curses on the KuPS Facebook page--something that, it must be said, did not happen when his teammate Ats Purje joined from Estonia’s Nomme Kalju.
With 895,000 Twitter followers, and a further 1.1 million on Instagram, Said is easily the highest profile player in this edition of Veikkausliiga, but his stint in Finland will be short-lived as he has announced he’ll join Saudi Arabian side Al-Ahli Saudi after his loan spell at KuPs.
This will be Egypt’s first appearance at the World Cup finals since 1990, and their third appearance overall. Their only other appearance at the finals came in 1934, when they were the first African nation to ever qualify. Said is therefore aware of the historical importance of Egypt’s qualification.
“Football is very important in Egypt, everybody loves the game,” Said told Yle News. “It is a big honour to play in the World Cup and represent my country.”
Despite being only four years old at the time, Said has particularly fond memories of Egypt’s previous World Cup appearance and the atmosphere among Egyptian supporters. It was a big factor in his decision to become a professional footballer, and he says he is hopeful that support for the national team will inspire a new generation of Egyptian footballers,
“I hope that the whole of Egypt will be supporting us, like the last time.”
Adventures in Finnish Football
Although Said had only made seven appearances for KuPs before he was called up to the Egyptian World Cup squad, his performances have helped the club rise to second place in the division. Wesa Koistinen of local paper Savon Sanomat says that Abdullah made a big difference to the eastern Finland club.
"Abdullah was very satisfied with the chance to play because he had no chance to play anywhere else," recalls Koistinen. "He was very popular among the fans because we haven't really had these players before who are preparing for the World Cup."
"He was very good, and sometimes so good that he thought quicker than his team-mates and they couldn't quite understand what he was going to do in time to be on the end of his passes."
During this short spell so far in Finland, Said has been impressed by the standard of Finnish football.
"KuPS coach Jani Honkavaara taught me a lot in a short time, and I got to play important games in a KuPS shirt ahead of the World Cup," said Said in a statement after his departure was announced. "I'm really thankful to Kuopion Palloseura.
“Every team in Finland is good and very well-organised,” claims Said in an interview with Yle News. “There is no big differences between the clubs and every game is hard.”
Said settled well into Finnish daily life, and says he has one very specific but perhaps distant wish for the next World Cup finals.
“Finland is great country and I have felt like home here,” notes Said. “I really respect people in Finland and I hope Finland can some time go to the World Cup and play against Egypt.”
“Everything is possible”
Although Egypt are considered one of the rank outsiders to win the tournament, Said thinks there is an inner belief among the squad about how far they might go. Their progression will depend heavily however on the health of Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, the top goalscorer and Player of the Year in this season’s English Premier League after he was injured in the Champions League Final against Real Madrid. Nevertheless, Said is upbeat.
“It is important to win the first game and after that everything is possible,” asserts the midfielder.
Said and his Egyptian teammates begin their World Cup campaign against Uruguay on Friday June 15 in the Central Stadium, Yekaterinburg. The game kicks off at 15.00 Finnish time and is live on Yle2 and Yle Areena.