Three years after tasting World Cup glory in Germany, Marcelo Lippi's Italy were brought back down to earth at the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa, where Egypt claimed a shock 1-0 victory in Johannesburg.
Watching at home was a 16-year-old El Shaarawy, a Genoa trainee with an Egyptian father who dreamed of one day playing for the Italian national team at senior level.
The AC Milan forward would finally run out for the Azzurri against England last August and, despite only scoring once in six subsequent appearances, the 20-year-old has been chosen to lead the line alongside Mario Balotelli at this summer's World Cup dress rehearsal in Brazil.
The tour begins with a warm-up match against Haiti at the Estadio Joao Havelange on Tuesday night.
Recalling the divided loyalties in the El Shaarawy household four years ago, he told La Repubblica: "I've always watched all of the national team's games and I certainly watched that one.
"There were four of us at home: myself, my brother, my mother and, obviously, my father. I was neutral.
"I certainly didn't think that, four years later, I would be playing at the Confederations Cup."
Sixteen goals in the 2012-13 Serie A campaign convinced coach Cesare Prandelli to bring El Shaarawy to Brazil, where Italy will meet Japan, Mexico and the hosts in Group A.
"This has been a fantastic season but now I know that I need to find some consistency," El Shaarawy added.
"I didn't expect to score so many goals, then to find myself in the national team and to score my first goal against France - it was one of the strongest emotions I've ever felt."
A goalless draw in the Czech Republic was not the ideal preparation for a long-haul flight to Rio de Janeiro but the young striker feels his team-mates will be back on form on Tuesday night.
He added: "We were not brilliant, there's no point hiding from that. I'm sure we will be better at the Confederations Cup."
Haiti lost by a solitary goal when facing world champions Spain - 62 places above them in the world rankings - in Miami on Saturday.
The nations meet for the first time since the 1974 World Cup, where Italy claimed a 3-1 victory, but the islanders' goalscorer Emmanuel Sanon remains a national hero.
A share of proceeds from the match will go towards those affected by the earthquake that ravaged the Caribbean island in 2010.