NINE YEARS after he wore the green shirt of Ireland for the last time, Dublin lad Eamon Zayed will open another remarkable chapter in his international career tomorrow when he makes his competitive debut for Libya in the World Cup qualifiers.
As former team-mates from his days with the Irish underage teams such as Wes Hoolahan, Stephen Kelly and Glenn Whelan are all on duty with Ireland against the Faroe Islands, Zayed is off on a World Cup mission of his own.
Football has been forced to take a backseat in Libya over the last two years as the country struggled to regain some normality following the 2011 revolution, so tomorrow is a big day for the Libyan people as they play DR Congo in the first of a double-header in the World Cup qualifiers, the first competitive home game since the revolt began.
And Zayed, a Dublin native who won underage caps for the Republic but then declared for Libya via the parentage rule, will be there. He started for the national team in a 3-0 friendly win over Uganda last weekend and the national team boss has told the former Derry City, Drogheda United and Bray Wanderers man that he will also start in tomorrow's game.
As Zayed – currently a free agent as his contract with his club in Iran has expired – is reminded of his past involvement with the Ireland teams, he admits it's hard to get his head around it, but there's no doubting his sincerity about playing for Libya and his dream of getting to Brazil in 2014.
"It's funny how life turns out. Ten years ago I was playing for Ireland and the hope was that I could some day make it to a big tournament with the Irish team, and now the plan is to get to Brazil for the World Cup finals with Libya," Zayed told The Herald from the team's HQ in Tripoli.
"It's just a brilliant experience to do what I have done, to go from Ireland to play in Iran and now play for Libya in the World Cup. It's a nice journey.
"And it would be a dream for me to get to the World Cup. We're four games away from it.
"We have as good a chance as Ireland. You have to win your group to get into the play-offs but qualification is there for us.
"We're second in the table, we're on five points and Cameroon are one point ahead of us. If we can win the two home games this week, against DR Congo and Togo and then beat Cameroon in September, we'd have a great chance of getting through to the play-offs and then it's a lottery, but the World Cup is a realistic dream.
"I started in our friendly last week, I played 60 minutes and we won 3-0. Even though I didn't score I played well and I've done enough to stay in the team for the game tomorrow, it looks like I am playing," added Zayed, who has used his time in Tripoli this week to meet up with some relatives.
"I haven't been involved with the national team for a while and because of issues over red tape I haven't been able to play competitive games until now, but it's all systems go for tomorrow.
The game is a big deal here in Tripoli as it's the first real home game since the revolution. They're letting people in for free to get a good crowd and we hope to have 50,000 or so on the day.
"Libya are unbeaten at home in a long, long time and the lads in the squad here tell me that the fans are a big factor – the first time I was with the national team squad they had 65,000 people for a game, it's some experience."
Zayed has become used to playing in front of big crowds from his time in the Iranian league, the Dubliner famously scoring a hat-trick in the Tehran derby in front of 100,000 punters. A deal with his club there is up so he's a free agent and while other Iranian teams have made offers, he's more likely to move on.
Clubs in the USA and Libya have expressed an interest but a number of League of Ireland sides have also made approaches – Sligo Rovers, Shamrock Rovers and Derry City are monitoring Zayed's situation.
"I have no idea where the next move will be, but whatever happens with the club, to get close to the World Cup finals would be something else," he added.