VANCOUVER, BC – When Aly Ghazal joined Vancouver Whitecaps FC in 2017, one of his main goals was to not only impress in a ‘Caps shirt, but to earn a spot on Egypt's roster for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
He certainly did the first.
But unfortunately for Ghazal, he wasn’t a part of Egypt’s plans for the prestigious competition. It was a moment that left him in heartbreak, but instead of dwelling on his omission from the squad, he used it as motivation to improve his game.
“You want to help your country and represent them,” Ghazal said. “So I was upset and disappointed, but after I was like ‘OK, I have to try and do my best so I can go back to Egypt for the next competition."
After impressing in recent performances, playing in a key role in Vancouver’s six-match unbeaten run in league play, Ghazal has been called up by Egypt’s new head coach Javier Aguirre for their upcoming Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match against Niger this Saturday.
This will be his first appearance for Egypt since September 2014.
“We have a new coach and everyone is excited back home,” Ghazal said. “It will get a lot of attention from the public this time and now you see Aly Ghazal is back after four years so the people are waiting to see how I do.”
“Everyone was calling me saying congratulations, and then if you see the reaction of the people on social media it’s huge,” he added. “I have to be brilliant. I have faith in God that I will do good. That’s why it makes me calm and I think, ‘OK, I am just playing football and playing my game. If I do good, I am happy, and if I do bad, then at least I tried my best.”
The call-up came during a ceremonious week for Ghazal and his family. They celebrated Eid-al-Adha – a religious holiday that millions of Muslims around the world celebrate – and it also marked his eight-year wedding anniversary with his wife.
Just as he thought the week couldn’t get more special, Ghazal received a phone call in the early hours of the morning that put the icing on the cake.
“It was brilliant, it made me so happy,” Ghazal said. “My goal in life was to play football as a professional and represent my country. Now I am playing professional for the last six, seven years and I represented my country a few times, so I mean, to do it again I feel like I am achieving everything in my career.”
Egypt qualified for this summer’s World Cup for the first time since 1990 – two years before Ghazal’s birth – bringing joy to a country that has previously endured political hardships.
“You know football is a way to unite people and bring people together,” Ghazal added. “We made the final of the Africa Cup of Nations, then made it to the World Cup it and it makes everything beautiful again. It really changed the mood back home and it’s continuing. If the national team plays good or makes it to a major tournament, it brings so much happiness for everyone.”
A large part of Egypt’s recent success has been the brilliance of Mohamed Salah. He had his best season in 2017-18, helping Liverpool secure a top four English Premier League finish and a spot in the Champions League final against Real Madrid.
“Qualifying for the World Cup was huge and everyone was so happy,” Ghazal said. “It was crazy to see. We’ve never had a player like Salah. We never had a player win the best player in the Premier League and become the top scorer. Now he was nominated for the best player in Europe and I think he will be in the short list for the best in the world. It’s unbelievable and Salah ... he represents that happiness of the Egyptian people.”
Following the international break, Ghazal and the ‘Caps return to action on Saturday, September 15 against Seattle Sounders FC (7 p.m. PT at BC Place – limited tickets available).