Egypt’s national football team has secured a spot in next year’s World Cup with a 2-1 win over Congo Brazzaville, clinching a place at the World Cup finals for the first time since 1990.
Mohamed Salah, 25-year-old forward who plays for Liverpool, scored a stoppage-time penalty on Sunday at the Borg El Arab Stadium in the Egyptian city of Alexandra that sent the Pharaohs to Russia for the World Cup and Egyptians around the world into a frenzy of celebration.
Behind the jubilation was the release of 27 years of frustration and disappointment, as Africa’s strongest football team repeatedly failed to qualify for the quadrennial tournament.
In Cairo, that meant an endless parade of cars with honking horns and delighted fans swarming into the streets, according to AFP. Army helicopters dropped hundreds of red, white and black Egyptian flags on the celebrants in Tahrir Square – one of the rare occasions on which crowds have been allowed to gather there since the uprisings in 2011.
The pressure was so high on Egypt’s Argentinean coach, Hector Cuper, that he had started taking blood pressure medication, the BBC reported. Lucky for him, Salah put Egypt ahead, scoring in the 63rd minute.
The euphoria from that faded when Congo levelled with four minutes left, leaving fans who thought they had lost their chance yet again with tears streaming down their faces.
The two teams were tied come 90 minutes but then, in stoppage time, a foul was called in the penalty area in the 95th minute. With the hopes of almost 100 million Egyptians riding on his left foot, Salah kicked and scored, instantaneously changing fans’ tears into roars of joy – including those of the far-from-objective Egyptian commentators.
President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has congratulated the whole team and hailed their “heroic performance”, announcing a bonus of 1.5 million Egyptian pounds (US$84,900) to each of the players. The president announced the reward on Monday as he met the Argentine coach Hector Cuper and the players.
Al-Sisi had special praise for match-winner Mohamed Salah, who scored a penalty in injury time to secure the qualification. “I am proud of all the players but especially of Mo Salah who was brave enough to take the crucial penalty,” the president said.
“Also thank you to coach Cuper who has made our dreams come true,” the president said.
“We are determined to make the country and continent proud in Russia,” Salah said. “I am very happy to lead Egypt to a World Cup after 28 years and to make a 100 million proud of us.”
The Pharaohs have won a record seven Africa Cup of Nations titles but have only been to the World Cup twice in 1934 and 1990 and are yet to win a single match at the finals.
Adira Kallo with agency reports