How Egypt ended their 27-year long FIFA World Cup jinx

Egypt became Africa’s second side, after Nigeria, confirmed of a spot at the 2018 FIFA World Cup following a hard-fought 2-1 win over Congo. We take a look at the Pharaohs’ incredible journey to Russia.

It was a crisp Sunday afternoon in Alexandria; the perfect atmosphere for a football game. Egypt was on the brink of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 1990. Group rivals, Uganda and Ghana, had played out a scoreless draw a day before. Leaving the door wide open for the North Africans to end that hoodoo with a victory over winless Congo. So, you’d expect a certain kind of excitement and tension rolled into one across the nation.

Many other countries would have had a game of such magnitude staged in their capital cities. But no, Egypt went north. The reason isn’t far-fetched; the 70,000-capacity Borg El-Arab Stadium, formally opened in 2007 is their largest. On top of that, it is perceived to be a virgin, not jinxed like the rest. Indeed, the Pharaohs had repeatedly faltered at the last hurdle in their own backyard. Most notably was against the Black Stars en route to the 2014 edition.

Not only the national team has had to contend with some sort of spell, but also their Argentine coach, Hector Cuper. Cuper is that manager who lost two successive Champions League finals, while at Valencia. He’s that despised Inter Milan gaffer who handed the Serie A title to Juventus on the final day of the season. That’s not all. At Mallorca, he was beaten twice in two finals; first the Copa del Rey and then the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.

Yet, none of his previous jobs could compare to the burden of steering Egypt to the Mundial. To the extent, the 61-year-old confessed to “taking hypertension medicine due to the stress”. Well, for Cuper’s lads, their manager’s bombs had nothing to do with them. It was their closest shot at making history; especially those not born around three decades ago.

A little above 80,000 fans were seated even before proceedings began in Alexandria and an extra 8,000 when it eventually did. But they were forced to wait till after the hour mark to see their team in front. Mohamed Salah latched on to a through pass from Mohamed Elneny to send the fans into a boisterous mood. Sadly, their joy was short-lived as Congo struck back through Arnold Bouka Mouto, two minutes to the end of regulation time. At that point, it was as though Cuper’s ghost was back to haunt him.

Moments later, Salah stepped up again to seal their qualification from the spot with less than five seconds left. There and then all hell was let loose.  That goal sent hundreds of thousands of fans across Egypt celebrating, honking car horns and waving the country’s red, white and black flags. In Cairo, an army helicopter dropped hundreds of Egyptian flags on thousands of fans gathered at the city’s iconic Tahrir square.

Finally, Egypt and Cuper have gotten it right. 

About the Author Toby

An unrepentant soccer freak other freaks call geek.

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