In many places across the UAE on Sunday, thousands of Egyptians lost their voices, their minds, and any sort of self control over their nerves as they went through 94 agonising minutes of football, watching the Pharaohs take on Congo to try and secure a place in their first World Cup since 1990.
Three points and the dream would become a reality – that’s all Egypt needed.
And when Mohamed Salah coolly scored a 94th-minute penalty – his second goal of the night – to seal a 2-1 win for Egypt in front of an 85,000-strong crowd at Borg El Arab stadium in Alexandria, screams and chants bellowed around me at the café where I was watching here in Dubai.
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Everyone was crying, strangers were hugging each other, Egyptian flags popped up everywhere, the commentator on television could hardly speak through his own tears… it took 28 years but Egypt was finally going to play in the World Cup again.
“Boom, boom, boom, boom, Masr (Egypt)! Boom, boom, boom, boom, Masr!” The beat rang in my ear all night.
Videos of fans blocking the streets of not just Egypt, but other countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, with their celebrations, flooded the internet.
Footage of an older man weeping on the floor in disbelief as his daughter filmed him in their house in California went viral.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and his son Sheikh Hamdan both immediately took to Twitter to congratulate the Pharaohs. Burj Khalifa was lit up in the colours of the Egyptian flag in honour of the historic feat.
“You have brought happiness to all our hearts from the [Arabian] Gulf to the [Atlantic] Ocean. Egypt, you are always grand,” read Sheikh Mohammed’s words on Sunday night.
In the Arab region, Egypt is referred to as ‘Om el Donia’ which translates to ‘Mother of the World’. So to say its return to the World Cup after nearly three decades is being wildly celebrated across the region is probably an understatement.
But for Egyptians themselves, the triumph means so much more.
For a country that had dominated African football for many years, winning the Africa Cup of Nations four times between 1998 and 2010, and seven times overall, it was a real mystery how Egypt had not made the World Cup since 1990, and had only appeared in the competition twice in total (1934 was their only other participation). Players like Mohamed Abu-Trika, Mido and Mohamed Zidan have somehow never made it to football’s greatest stage.
— Sport360° (@Sport360) October 8, 2017
Think of all the clichés used to describe any football-mad society and I can tell you that all of them apply to Egypt, and then some. Nothing unites the nation like a football match and between the political turmoil the country endured starting 2011, and the economic crisis it is currently experiencing, making the World Cup is being viewed as the one bright hope in a bleak climate.
Salah was not just attempting to score a penalty on Sunday night, he was trying to elevate 100 million Egyptians at trying times across the nation.
The disappointments and near-misses during previous World Cup qualifying campaigns still stung and the grief that came with the tragic deaths at Port Said Stadium in 2012 will never disappear.
But somehow, Hector Cuper’s men making it to Russia 2018 has brought us Egyptians together once again and has given fans a chance to put their faith in a team and actually witness them deliver.
They may not be the golden generation of Abu-Trika and Co., and they may not be the current kings of Africa, but they will always be the squad that ended the bitterest drought in the history of Egyptian sport.
Magdi Abdelghani, who scored Egypt’s sole goal in the 1990 World Cup against the Netherlands, can finally stop rubbing it in our faces. The qualifiers complex we suffered from has finally been conquered. The perennial pessimism we lived in when it came to our national team has dissipated.
It really is a new dawn for Egypt!
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) October 8, 2017