Agadir, Morocco – Mohamed Aboutrika's club Al Ahly are still hoping they can persuade the talismanic Egyptian player to put off his retirement again after he left the Club World Cup through the back door.
Aboutrika, who like most of Egypt's top players has spent nearly all of his career at home, limped out of Saturday's quarter-final against Asian champions Guangzhou at halftime after missing a glaring chance early in the game.
Guangzhou went on to win 2-0 with two second half goals to earn a semi-final against Bayern Munich.
It is certainly not the way Egyptian fans would want to remember the 35-year-old playmaker who has been at the heart of their national team for nearly a decade and has won a remarkable five African Champions League titles with Al Ahli.
Coach Mohamed Youssef, however, offered a glimmer of hope, saying that the club were still negotiating.
“It has not been officially conveyed so for us we still need him,” said Youssef, adding that Aboutrika had gone off because his leg was aching. “He is of great value, he is a heavyweight player.”
“Important players should not be assessed just on age and we should not base our future decisions on just one game.”
Aboutrika, who has over 100 international caps, won successive African Nations Cup titles with Egypt in 2006 and 2008 although he missed the 2010 tournament, which Egypt also won, through injury.
He has scored a record 14 goals for Egypt in World Cup qualifiers although that has not been enough to fulfil his dream of playing at the finals themselves.
Despite Egypt's success in the Nations Cup, their only appearances in the sport's showpiece event were in 1934 and 1990 and their attempt to qualify for Brazil effectively ended with a 6-1 defeat in Ghana in October.
Aboutrika, a philosophy graduate, is equally popular for his stance on political and humanitarian issues.
After scoring against Sudan in the 2008 African Nations Cup final against Cameroon, he lifted up his shirt to reveal a T-shirt with the message “Sympathise with Gaza”, earning a reprimand from tournament organisers
He was widely reported to have carried a dying teenager from the field in his arms during the Port Said stadium disaster in February last year and spent the next two weeks attending funerals of the more than 70 people killed.
Guangzhou coach Marcello Lippi made a point of praising Aboutrika after Saturday's game.
“I would like to congratulate him for his outstanding career,” said the Italian World Cup winner. “I'm unhappy for him if this should be his last game.” – Reuters