SOCHI, Russia: Egypt midfielder Abdallah Said is set to become the first player from Finland’s Veikkausliiga to play at the World Cup when his side take on Uruguay in Ekaterinaburg on Friday.
Finland have never qualified for the finals of a major tournament, but that did not stop Said from joining Kuopion Palloseura, known as KuPS, on loan when he was in need of playing time ahead of the finals.
The 32-year-old playmaker showed enough in seven games at second-placed KuPS to retain his place in manager Hector Cuper’s squad, much to the delight of both Egyptian and Finnish fans.
"It’s a big thing for Veikkausliiga that a player from a Finnish club is selected for the World Cup, especially since the player in question is a high-profile player for the Egypt national team," Pyry Waltari, communications manager for the Veikkausliiga, told Reuters.
Though a key player for Egypt in qualifying, Said arrived in Finland as something of an unknown quantity.
"Our players and I didn’t see it at first, but he’s really good in making penetrating passes through the line. You just need to run and he puts the ball there for you," KuPS coach Jani Honkavaara told Reuters.
"As a player he is a fast thinker, he is always thinking about what was going to be his next move, and because of that he doesn’t lose the ball," Honkavaara added.
Finland’s Veikkausliiga may be ranked 38th of Europe’s 55 leagues but it is still good enough to prepare for the biggest soccer stage of them all, the KuPS coach said.
"I am proud that he got to the World Cup team, and he also said it was really important for him to play. He was pleased and surprised about the level we have here."
Said is unlikely to return to Finland following the World Cup, but he made a strong impression on Finnish fans during his short time there, and will always be remembered as the first Veikkausliiga player to make it to the World Cup.
"People in Finland are referring to him as the best foreign player to have ever played in the Veikkausliiga so he impressed a lot of people," Honkavaara said.
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor; Editing by Toby Davis)