Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
ASTON VILLA, with the backing of British royalty, won the richest single match in world football at Wembley yesterday with Egyptian captain, Ahmed Elmohamady, reminding the Warriors of the quality they will come up against in the 2019 AFCON opener.
The Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, was part of the supporting cast of the 86 826 fans who poured into Wembley for the play-off final showdown between his beloved Villa and Derby.
The winner didn’t only earn a place in the English Premiership next season, but also about US$215 million that came with that prize.
Villa won the duel, beating Derby County 2-1, after goals from Dutchman Anwar El-Ghazi and Scotsman John McGinn while Jack Marriot pulled a goal back for the defeated Rams who could not provide a fairytale ending to the campaign for their manager Frank Lampard.
But the result provided a fitting conclusion to a remarkable season in which Villa flirted with administration, amid financial challenges, before the sale of the club to the billionaire duo of American tycoon Wes Edens and Egyptian Nassef Sawiris, in July last year, changed everything.
Edens has a net worth of about US$2,5 billion.
Sawiris is considered the fourth richest African with a net worth of about US$7,5 billion. His investment into Aston Villa has also provided Elmohamady with a sense of both pride, and ownership, playing for a club owned by one of his countrymen.
The breakthrough goal, which came just before the break, was created down the right channel of the Villa attack, where Elmohamady has been very effective all season, with the Egyptian lofting in a devilish ball into the box which split the Derby defence.
El-Ghazi, who could have been playing for Morocco at the AFCON finals next month had he not chosen the Dutch, timed his run to perfection and, despite the presence of a defender, squeezed himself into a position to steal a march on his opponent.
His connection was a bit scrappy, the ball appearing to come off his shoulder, but it was still good enough to divert the ball into the corner for the decisive goal.
Elmohamady has been playing football in England for the past nine years, with stints in the Premiership and the Championship, and while he is a rightback, he is known for his rampaging runs into attacking positions where his crosses have provided opponents with different challenges.
“Elmahomady was brought into English football in the summer of 2010,’’ tweeted Bet365 yesterday. “In the nine years since, he’s played over 37 games in all, but one season, been a vital part of Sunderland, Hull and Villa sides and been reliable for all.
“Aged 31, he’s still turning up on the biggest stage.’’
He is one of the senior players in the Pharaohs team that will open the AFCON finals with a date against the Warriors on June 21 in Cairo.
Egyptian coach, Javier Aguirre, a Mexican who has been in charge of his country twice, including at the 2010 World Cup finals, Atletico Madrid, Osasuna, Real Zaragoza, Espanyol and Japan, named him the Pharaohs captain in September last year, ahead of their AFCON qualifier against Nigeria in Alexandria.
The Egyptians, having lost their first match in Tunisia, turned the style and thrashed Niger 6-0.
“We could have scored 15 or 16 goals in the first half of the game,” Elmohamedy told ON Sport TV channel after that match.
“With Aguirre, I get more attacking roles, and I think most of the squad play in a similar way with their clubs which will help them easily apply this style with the national team.’’
Elmohamedy is set to lead the Pharaohs at the AFCON finals next month and talked about leading the team.
“The badge goes to senior players and there are no problems between the players because of this system,” he told On Sport TV.
“Aguirre settled this since day one in the training camp, and if he said in the next camp that Mohamed Salah or Ahmed Hegazi will lead the team no one will have a problem with that.
“Being captain is not just about wearing a badge, it about leading the team on and off the pitch. The staff makes such decisions and we accept all their orders warmly.’’
With Elmohamedy a continuous threat down the right channel of the Pharaohs attack, and Salah also causing havoc on the wide flanks, the Egyptians are a formidable team.
And, after Aston Villa’s success story yesterday, in which Elmohamady played an influential role, which should boost his morale leading into the AFCON finals, the Egyptians will be hoping Salah can also celebrate winning the UEFA Champions League on Saturday.
Liverpool take on Tottenham in an all-English final in Madrid.
Elmohamady has 86 caps for his country since making his debut on August 22, 2007, at the age of 19 years, 11 months, and has scored three times and provided nine assists.
He has featured 41 times for Villa where he has scored twice and provided seven assists, including the golden one yesterday, which helped his team score the first goal.
“He’s very much a player who gets the job done with minimum of fuss, with no thrills or spills, but he’s also a player who very rarely drops below a 6/7 out of 10,’’ the Villa fans noted on their official supporters chat board ahead of yesterday’s match.
“He has also spent time on the right wing in the early part of the campaign and in Dean Smith’s first couple of games. This has all contributed to Elmo recording 2 goals and 7 assists in 32 league starts, with 45 key passes added to the mix which demonstrates his ability to find his team mates in advanced areas of the pitch.”