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.
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
Xavi Hernandez said he is open to being Qatar’s coach when it hosts the 2022 World Cup and rebuffed critics by claiming he is “very proud” to be in Doha.
The Barcelona great, 37, who currently plays in Qatar for Al Sadd, told AFP he is “90 percent” certain to retire at the end of this season and then launch his coaching career.
And the World Cup winner says he wants to coach on the biggest stage.
Asked if that mean being Qatar’s coach in 2022, he replied: “Why not? I think it would be nice to be a coach here for the national team.
“We will see. I need experience, I need staff, I need everything but at least I know the Qatari players, I know the environment here.”
The Spanish 2010 World Cup winner added: “I am here to help them to be better, to compete well at this World Cup.
“I think my aim is to be the head coach.”
He added that he would initially like to get involved coaching Qatar’s under-19s or under-23s before working with the senior team.
And he advocated a playing style similar to that of Barcelona’s famous passing game, of which Xavi – who won eight La Liga and four Champions’ League titles with the Catalans — was an integral part.
“I think that we must follow this legacy of Johann Cruyff, of Van Rijkaard, Van Gaal, Pep Guardiola, not only in Barcelona but also in the world of football.
“Everybody enjoyed our style, in Barcelona and the national team. I think we have to follow this way.”
He added that Barcelona and Spain’s style of play was “the highest point” of his career.
Xavi expects to call time on his exceptional career and begin coaching courses in Madrid next year.
“I feel a little bit sad, I want to play more, until 60 or 70 but I cannot,” he said.
“It’s a pity. But I started to think as a coach two or three years ago.”
Qatar failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, which means that in 2022 they will become the first nation to host football’s biggest tournament without ever playing in a finals since Italy in 1934.
They had three coaches during the qualification period and currently Xavi’s fellow Spaniard Felix Sanchez is in temporary charge.
Xavi – who also said it was his “dream” to coach Barcelona — has been in Qatar since 2015.
He signed a two-year contract, extended by 12 months, which ends in 2018.
Qatar has come under intense scrutiny over corruption and labour abuse allegations since winning the right to host the World Cup, charges it denies.
That criticism has heightened during the ongoing Gulf political crisis, which has seen Qatar isolated by neighbouring countries, and fresh calls for FIFA to take the tournament from Doha.
As Qatar football’s biggest star, Xavi, who is already an ambassador for the 2022 tournament, has also found himself criticised for playing in the emirate.
But Xavi says he is unconcerned.
“People don’t know the country, the work they are doing here,” he said.
“I would invite them to come here and then they can see – but I am very proud to be here.”
He added: “I think they (Qatar) are doing well. I don’t care about the criticism.”
The race to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia is nearing its conclusion.
Here Press Association Sport looks at how things stand in the different continental sections.
Nigeria became the first African side to qualify for next summer’s finals with a 1-0 win over Zambia on Saturday and Egypt joined them thanks to a 2-1 victory over Congo on Sunday.
The remaining three qualifiers will not be determined until next month.
Tunisia need just a point in their final game at home to Libya to be certain of qualifying, the Ivory Coast must beat Morocco to overtake them and win Group C, while Senegal will qualify as Group D winners with a home victory over South Africa.
Iran, South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia were the first four Asian nations to qualify.
Australia and Syria – the third-placed finishers in the two Asian final-round qualifying groups – play the second leg of their play-off on Tuesday with the score 1-1 after the first leg.
The winner will take on the team which finishes fourth in the CONCACAF section over two legs for a place in Russia.
Mexico and Costa Rica’s qualification means only one automatic berth is still open, with the United States in pole position to claim it.
A win over the group’s bottom side Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday will seal their passage. Panama currently occupy fourth, which carries with it a play-off against Australia or Syria.
If they can achieve a better result against Costa Rica than fifth-placed Honduras manage against Mexico, they will definitely hold onto fourth place at the very least.
Belgium, England, Germany, Poland and Spain have already secured their places but four group winners are still to be decided with just one round of group games to go.
France will finish top of Group A if they match or better Sweden’s result against Holland and Switzerland know a draw or win away to Portugal will secure their place, while a win for Serbia over Georgia will definitely keep them top of Group D.
A win for Iceland at home to Kosovo would wrap up Group I for them, and a first trip to the World Cup finals.
Eight second-placed teams will then fight for four remaining places in Russia via the play-offs next month. Denmark, Italy and Northern Ireland are already assured of a place in the play-offs.
New Zealand face a play-off next month against the team finishing fifth in South American qualifying, with the winner of that two-legged tie qualifying for the finals.
Brazil are home and hosed but the remaining three automatic qualifying places in South America – and the identity of the team which gets a second chance in a play-off against New Zealand – is far from settled.
Uruguay just need to draw at home to Bolivia to join Brazil but beneath them, only two points separate the next five teams in the standings with one round of games to go.
Argentina know that three points away to Ecuador would get them at least a play-off place but winning at high altitude will be no easy achievement.
Belgium, Brazil, Costa Rica, Egypt, England, Germany, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Poland, Russia (hosts), Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain.