By Mohammed Moussa
Fiorentina defender Ahmed Hegazy is determined to return to action this season in order to help his side qualify for the Champions League.
The Viola currently sit fourth in the Serie A standings, just a point behind third-placed AC Milan with four games remaining, and Hegazy believes a return to Europe's elite would reflect the current standard of Vincenzo Montella's side.
"Fiorentina are a great team and we are now fourth in Serie A standings, with four games left to be played. We want to compete for getting the third place so that we can reach the Champions League," he told Goal.
Hegazy has been sidelined since December with a cruciate ligament injury, and while he admits the past few months have been deeply frustrating, the 22-year-old is confident of playing a part in the final few fixtures of the season.
"I think I can make the remainder of the season, I will be fit for a full game once I have played one or two friendly matches," he continued. "Montella is eager to give me the chance to play before the end of the season.
"It was the most difficult experience I've ever have. It's very difficult to stay away from pitch all this time, especially when you are still at the very beginning of your career in Europe and making good progress towards a consistent place in the starting XI.
"I have many dreams, but right now I am just concentrating on getting back to full fitness and returning to the pitch stronger than ever. I want to participate in the remaining matches this season with Fiorentina and contribute to achieving our goal of qualifying for next term's Champions League or Europa League."
Italian football has been blighted by incidents of racism this season, with the likes of AC Milan duo Kevin-Prince Boateng and Mario Balotelli victims of unsavoury chants from supporters, while Lazio were forced to play Europa League fixtures behind closed doors following racial abuse of Tottenham players.
Hegazy, however, has stressed that he has never personally encountered such problems, either on the pitch or in the streets of Florence.
When asked if he had suffered racial abuse of any kind since moving to Italy last summer, he said: "Never. At the Viola we are equal and there's no racism at all, either with my team-mates or in the stadium, or even in the streets of Florence."
Hegazy, dubbed the 'Egyptian Alessandro Nesta' by sections of the Viola faithful, also moved to dispel suggestions he could be forced to move on from Stadio Artemio Franchi in the summer.
"Of course, it's a great honour to be compared to this great player, I hope I can be like him in the field," he said of the comparisons with the AC Milan legend.
"These rumours [of a transfer] aren't true at all, seeing as I am part of a great team, one of the biggest Italian teams. I am definitely not thinking of leaving any time soon. Also, the coach and his staff want to keep me in the team, and I am happy to be there."
Finally, Hegazy revealed his hopes of a recall to the Egypt squad once he has regained full fitness, and praised the work of coach Bob Bradley as they look to secure qualification for next year's World Cup finals.
"Right now, the Egypt national team are on the right path under the guidance of coach Bob Bradley," he stated. "If they manage to keep on like that, it will be a matter of time before Egypt can book their ticket to Brazil.
"[A recall] depends on Mr. Bradley and his staff, who have the right to choose me or not. For me, it's always an honour to join my national team and I'll try to be fit as soon as possible if Egypt need my efforts."