Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1397, (7 - 20 June 2018)
Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Issue 1397, (7 - 20 June 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Egypt is back

The Pharaohs head for Russia on Sunday to start their campaign in the world’s most prestigious sports event, which kicks off on 14 June. Al-Ahram Weekly highlights Egypt’s history and preparations for the biggest prize in football as it rejoins the greats

 

Salah
Al-Ahram Weekly

It’s been 28 years since Egypt last made it to the World Cup. In 1934 Egypt became the first African and Arab team to play in the World Cup finals. When they qualified again in 1990, they became the team with the longest-ever gap between two World Cups: 56 years and 16 days had passed. Interestingly, both editions were held in Italy.

History


The 1934 FIFA World Cup was the second edition of the world championship for men’s national association football teams. It took place in Italy from 27 May to 10 June. That  World Cup was the first in which the teams had to qualify, since the first edition in 1930 had no qualification rounds as the participating teams were invited by FIFA.


Then, a total of 32 teams entered the competition, so FIFA had to hold qualification (or preliminary) rounds to reduce the field to 16 teams for the final tournament. Even Italy, the host of the World Cup, had to qualify (the only time the hosts had to qualify), and one of only two occasions the hosts have ever taken part in the qualification process, while the defending champions Uruguay refused to participate and defend their title because many European nations declined to take part in the 1930 World Cup held in Uruguay. The 32 teams were divided into 12 groups, based on geographical considerations.


A total of 27 teams played at least one qualifying match. A total of 26 qualifying matches were played, and 139 goals were scored (an average of 5.35 per match).


Egypt beat Palestine 7-1 in the first leg match which was held on Friday 16 March 1934 in Cairo in front of 14,000 spectators. The second leg match was held on 6 April with 10,000 spectators attending the match. Egypt won 4-1 and qualified to the final stage in Italy where it was eliminated from the round of 16 after a 4-2 loss to Hungary. The competition was held on a knock-out system. The match was held at the Stadio Giorgio Ascarelli, Naples, with 9,000 attending the match.


The Egyptians made an impressive appearance as debutants. The team’s forward Abdel-Rahman Fawzi of Al-Masri club was named the best left wing in the 1934 WC and was on the world team selection as well.

 


The Pharaohs 1934

The 40-year-old Scottish head coach Mcrea James spent two years with the Egyptian national team, leading the Pharaohs in seven games. He won three, lost two and drew in two. The team scored 22 goals and conceded 15.


In the 1990 World Cup in Italy, Egypt automatically qualified to the second round of the qualifications after it was exempted from playing the first preliminary round. At the second-round group stage competition, the Pharaohs played in a group that included Liberia, Malawi and Kenya. They beat Liberia 2-0, drew with Malawi 1-1 and played to a scoreless draw with Kenya 0-0. Then in the second-leg, the Egyptians beat Liberia 1-0, Malawi 1-0 and Kenya 2-0.


Egypt topped its group standings with eight points, two points ahead of Liberia to qualify for the final round and meet Algeria in decisive home and away matches. They drew 0-0 in the first-leg and Egypt won 1-0 in the second-leg, thus qualifying to the 1990 World Cup 1-0 on aggregate to make up the 24 teams to the final stage of the competition. Egypt and Cameroun were Africa’s representatives.


The World Cup draw had placed Egypt in Group six at the final stage with The Netherlands, England and the Republic of Ireland. The Pharaohs drew with The Netherlands 1-1, a result that had Egyptians celebrating all night back home, then drew 0-0 with Ireland before losing to England 1-0 in the last match of the group. Egypt consequently bid farewell to the tournament.


Egypt vs the Netherlands 1990


Former head coach Mahmoud Al-Gohari led the Egyptian team at the 1990 World Cup. He was in charge of the Pharaohs from 1988 to 1993.


Meanwhile, in Russia 2018, Egypt will be making its third appearance as they return to the global showpiece after a 28-year absence.  Egypt won all four of their home qualifiers on the road to Russia. The North Africans had been unbeaten at home in World Cup qualification since 20 June 2004 when they suffered a 2-1 reverse in Alexandria against Cote d’Ivoire. Following that setback, the Egyptians strung together one draw and no fewer than 17 wins including 10 in their last 10 games.


En route to Russia 2018, Egypt lost to Chad 1-0 in the away match of the preliminary round of the African qualifications before beating them at home 4-0 to qualify to the second round, where it was placed in Group five together with Ghana, Congo and Uganda.


The Pharaohs topped the standings of the group with 13 points, scored eight goals and conceded four. It was head coach Hector Cuper who led the Egyptian team all throughout the qualifications to the 2018 WC. The Argentinian took charge of Egypt in March 2015 and managed the Pharaohs to the 2017 CAF Africa Cup of Nations final. He then guided them to their first World Cup appearance since 1990, as they topped African zone Group E.


With Egypt, Cuper played 30 matches -- 20 official and 10 friendlies, winning 20, losing six and drawing four. The Pharaohs scored 45 goals and conceded 15.


Cuper

 

Preparations

Meanwhile, in the build-up to the World Cup in Russia, the Egyptians played five friendly matches in March, May and June. In March Egypt played against Portugal and Greece. It lost both games, 2-1 to Portugal and 1-0 to Greece. In May, the Pharaohs drew 1-1 with Kuwait and in June, Egypt played to a scoreless draw with Colombia in a match that took place in Italy. Egypt was scheduled to take on Belgium in its last friendly on 6 June, after the newspaper went to press.


Despite these results and the injury to the team’s superstar Mohamed Salah, Cuper said he was satisfied with the results. Following the 0-0 draw with Colombia, he told reporters that he was satisfied with the result and that they will be working on correcting the mistakes committed in order to avoid them in the future.


The Argentinian also told reporters that the absence of Salah had made a difference and that he had tried some other players to fill the gap, saying Salah makes a difference with any team he plays for.


“In football, injuries happen all the time. They just happen any time, even with minutes to go before any match. This is why I have always appreciated the importance of teamwork, preparing all the players as if they are all going to be playing. They should always be fit and ready to step in anytime. Salah is very important and essential to all of us. Still our enthusiasm and ambition is the same, and we still believe in our determination and confident in our ability to overcome any difficulties that might face us.”


Cuper revealed that while Salah’s injury was definitely the biggest drawback in their preparations, there were other results and experiences gained from the training camp.


“In terms of the results achieved in the first part of the training camp, especially the friendly match against Kuwait, it would have been great if we had won the game, but we have achieved some other good results from some other aspects, which could be invisible to others, but serves us well.


“We have been through different phases in our preparations. The most important thing for me is that every training session we have ends with no injuries. This is all I care about. This in itself is a strong goal for us which gives us more hope. We are working on all single details, even the minor ones. We deal with them with care and attention: nutrition, fitness, strength and tactical training. We study everything, all the latest updated techniques and to be honest, the Egyptian association and the team manager have provided us with all the requirements we have asked for, especially in hiring highly-experienced specialists and professionals in the field of football.”


With only a week left to go for the World Cup kick-off, Cuper hopes everything goes well until the event starts. “We hope no surprises would come up to mar our preparations. We are really under so much pressure, every moment. It’s a critical stage and this is what worries me. Any simple mistake is unforgivable because it will cost you and we can’t afford it, especially at this time.”


The head coach said there were many technical matters “that we need to work on, especially in creating the balance between defence and attack. Thank God, we have the will, determination and the enthusiasm to do that and we trust ourselves that we can solve any issues we might face on the way towards achieving our goals.”

 

The group stage

 

In the preliminary round, Egypt will play three matches, each in a different city.

Match 1: Egypt vs Uruguay (Ekaterinburg)
Against Uruguay, which will be held on 15 June, the game will take place in the city of Ekaterinburg. The stadium is home to one of the country’s oldest football clubs, FC Ural, and was built in 1953. Since then, it has been refurbished on a number of occasions. The last of these refits was made for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. On each occasion, however, the stadium’s historical façade remained untouched, as an architectural legacy. The stadium retains its recognisable historical façade, although a roof and temporary stands were installed for Russia 2018, with a capacity of 35,000 spectators.


Head to Head: Egypt and Uruguay met only once, on 16 August 2006 in a friendly match in Alexandria, Egypt. The Pharaohs lost 2-0.

 

Match 2: Egypt vs Russia (Saint Petersburg)
The second match is scheduled for 19 June in the city of Saint Petersburg. The city’s new, super-modern stadium is built on the site of the Kirov Stadium on Krestovsky Island, which, in its day, was one of the country’s largest stadiums, with a capacity of 110,000. Now, it has a capacity of 67,000 seats. The stadium hosted the opening match and final of the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup.
Head to Head: The teams have never met before.

Match 3: Egypt vs Saudi Arabia (Volgograd)
The third match is to be held on 25 June at the Volgograd Arena, which was built on the site of the Central Stadium, at the foot of the Mamayev Kurgan war memorial. The 45,000-seat stadium’s façade takes the form of an inverted, truncated cone with an open lattice structure, lending the entire building a monumental solidity.


Head to Head: Being neighbours and sharing the same region, the two teams have met before on several occasions. Their head-to-head encounters are six matches: four official and two friendlies. Egypt won four, drew one and lost one. It scored 19 goals and conceded seven. The Saudis scored seven goals and conceded 19, drawing in one match and losing four. Saudi Arabia won only one game, the famous match which was held at the 1999 FIFA Confederations Cup when they beat the Pharaohs 5-1.

 

 

Egyptian referee


Grisha

Gehad Grisha will be the only Egyptian referee at this year’s 2018 World Cup. He follows Gamal Al-Ghandour and Essam Abdel-Fattah as the only Egyptian referees who have taken part in the world’s greatest sports event.


The 42-year-old Grisha became a FIFA referee in 2008. He participated in the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, 2013 Africa Cup of Nations and the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.

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