In this series we look at nations that can offer something a little different on the world stage. Episode 1: Mo and Co
Despite passing away at the age of 19 after only ruling for 9 years, Tutankhamun is perhaps the most famous of all the Pharaohs. The tale of Cleopatra’s demise at the hands of an Asp, or teeth for that matter, echo across Egyptian and Roman folklore still to this day.
But now, a new King rules the land.
In Egypt’s penultimate qualifying game, only a win would do for El Phara’ena – The Pharaohs.
In what has become quite the regular occurrence this season, Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah scored to put Egypt 1-0 up in the 62nd minute against Congo.
Aiming to reach their first World Cup in 28 years and only their 3rd ever, the dreams of the nation looked in tatters as Arnold Bouka Moutou equalised in the 88th minute.
When 5 minutes of additional time were shown, there was hope for The Pharaohs that they could go on to get a winner and restore their lead.
If there is anything the footballing world has learnt this year, it is do not, under any circumstances, give Mo Salah a chance.
When Mahmoud Hassan, or Trézéguet as he is commonly known as, was brought down in the area; Salah was given his chance. A spot-kick with the last kick of the game to send his nation to Russia.
Liverpool’s ‘Egyptian King’ smashed home the penalty to the ‘keepers left sparking scenes of pandemonium within the stadium and throughout the whole country.
Whilst the Congolese finished bottom of the group, their players looked on in despair, heartbroken, after managing to almost scrape a point against the heavy favourites.
For Mo & Co though, the victory was everything.
Africa’s most successful nation, with 7 Cup of Nations trophies to their name, have underperformed massively when it comes to qualifying for the World Cup, having previously only qualified for the second instalment of the tournament in 1934 and then having to wait 56 years before reaching Italia ’90.
So with the reward being a rare opportunity to prove themselves on the world stage, Héctor Cúper’s men delivered, giving the 96 million strong population something to be proud of following the political turmoil and unrest of recent years.
Salah’s penalty sparked celebrations so wild, it would be fair to estimate the country hasn’t seen anything like it in its history since its earliest people settled in the 10th millennium BC.
A rare positive rally in Cairo following Egypt’s qualification – Via Reuters
The man of the moment, Salah, was delighted with his country’s exploits when he spoke at the 2017 CAF awards (1), stating: “In qualification for the world cup we did very well and we qualified. We deserved that and everyone saw that, and I am excited. I am very sure we are going to do something special in the World Cup!”
Egypt’s talisman is certainly preparing very well for Russia 2018 as he has played an instrumental role in setting up a Champions League final for Liverpool against Real Madrid. The Pharaohs’ number 10 added: “I want to be the best player ever in Egypt in history. I am working hard every day on improving myself.”
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi congratulated his people for their wild celebrations on the streets of Cairo following the match, and the feeling within Egypt was one of euphoria and relief.
Egypt’s most successful club Al Ahly SC have won 86 domestic trophies and have lifted the CAF Champions League on 8 occasions. The country’s success continently has been the envy of the majority of Africa, and it is this continental success the nation are hoping will kick start a long stay alongside the elite of world football.
Héctor Cúper, the Argentine that has masterminded Egypt’s recent resurgence puts qualification down due to hard work (2).
“What happened before in the previous 28 years I think is difficult to explain that but I’d like to talk about my era with the Egyptian national team. The philosophy of our play and especially the defensive part we’ve worked hard for. The philosophy and hard work helped us get to the world cup.”
When speaking with FIFA, he admits the tournament “will be competitive all round”.
“We’re all raring to go and no one can say they’ve got an easier or tougher draw, because it’s all about competing as the best you can and every team poses difficulties in football.
“It’s never easy in a competition featuring the best national teams in the world. I enjoyed the draw, you can avoid the likes of Brazil but then you draw the likes of Russia and we’ll compete the same way and here’s hoping it will all go well for us!”
Cúper is certainly focused on the task at hand, as he adds: “As for our draw, we know all about Uruguay’s qualities. They’ve got great firepower up front in Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez. Russia will be playing on home turf. Saudi Arabia are in the same boat as us; we’re both going to have to dig really deep to match the level of the other teams.”
As many sporting underdog stories show, anything on the day is possible. This mentality is mirrored by the gaffer.
“Regardless of the opposition, I’m always optimistic. It’s that simple.”
If Salah can beat the likes of Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez in Egypt’s first game way out east in Ekaterinburg, Cúper and the nations’ optimism may just turn into reality.
حظا موفقا لفراعنة! – Good look to The Pharaohs!
1) True Kop LFC – YouTube. 5/1/18 Mohamed Salah: I want to be Egypt’s best ever Player. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gYH1H3XWTw
2) FIFA TV – YouTube. 1/12/17 Hector CUPER – Egypt – Final Draw Reaction. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEvibH9EKGA