Veteran Aboutrika with point to prove

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The Independent Online

An ageing talent included in the squad amid grumbling that he's being picked less on merit than on past reputation? For David Beckham, read Mohamed Aboutrika. The most rabid Zamalek fans aside, nobody would dispute the contribution the playmaker has made to Egypt's domination of African football, but after a foot injury caused him to miss their third straight Cup of Nations success in Angola in January, there have been questions as to whether he is sufficiently recovered to be worth his place in the squad.

The 31-year-old's only appearance this year for his club, Al Ahly, was as a substitute in last week's 2-2 draw with Gaish, but Egypt's coach, Hassan Shehata, was characteristically forthright in defending his selection. "He is fit and that's why he's in," he said. "He's been in the squad for a long time, but there are no favours for anyone."

His eagerness to bring back Aboutrika is understandable. The playmaker, who has a degree in philosophy, is probably the best player currently active outside Europe and South America. Technically gifted, he also has a remarkable spatial awareness and an admirable temperament under pressure. There are those who would suggest that by remaining in Egypt he has never fully tested his talents against top opposition, but his performances against Brazil and Italy in last summer's Confederations Cup showed just how effective he can be, even against the best in the world.

Future Pharoahs? Egypt's three to watch

Essam El-Hadary

The veteran goalkeeper has been a mainstay of the national side since his debut in 1996 and the 37-year-old has won four African Cup of Nations and earned 119 caps.

Ahmed Hassan

Has made 172 appearances for his country, and the majority of Egypt's play is dictated by the 34-year-old captain. The bustling midfielder played in Europe with Besiktas and Anderlecht.

Mohamed Zidan

A talented striker who has been instrumental in Egypt's recent successes and plays in Germany for Borussia Dortmund. Has been linked with a move to the Premier League.

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