The world cup has caused pharaohs fans as much angst as a dodgy pyramid scheme world cup fiver football the guardian

Qualifying for the World Cup is a bit like becoming a parent. It can bring joy but opens up an enormous new vista of worries. Ever since Mo Salah scored twice against Congo in October to secure Egypt’s qualification for the tournament, Egyptians have been simultaneously dreaming of glory and fretting about how things could go horribly wrong. When a tight groin made Salah limp out of the first leg of Liverpool’s Champions League flailing of Manchester City on Wednesday, an entire nation held its nads. Although Jürgen Klopp said the injury did not appear serious, Egyptians won’t be able to relax until Salah is back in action. And as soon as he is back in action, they will resume worrying about him getting injured.


So it goes.

You can understand Egyptian fears. Ever since their first participation in the tournament in 1934, the World Cup has caused Pharaohs fans as much angst as a dodgy pyramid scheme. For that first tournament the Egypt team made a four-day voyage to Italy, scored two goals in four minutes against Hungary but still wound up losing 4-2 amid a pong that could have tickled nostrils as far away as Rhinocoloura, the fabled city of noseless criminals. Hungary’s fourth goal came following a challenge that left Egypt’s goalkeeper, Mustafa Mansour, with a broken hooter, whereas Abdulrahman Fawzi had a goal ruled out for offside despite the fact, according to Egyptian reports, that he scored it after dribbling through the opposition Salah-style from inside his own half. If that goal had stood, perhaps Egypt would have won and Fawzi, who had already netted twice, would have become the first player to score a World Cup hat-trick for an African country, a feat that remains unattained, although El-Hadji Diouf probably says he scored five in Senegal’s victory over Brazil in the 2002 final.

After that 1934 disappointment it was 56 years before Egypt reached the tournament again. In 1990 they opened with an honourable 1-1 draw against European champions Holland but were then grabbed in a headlock by Jack Charlton’s Republic of Ireland before being eliminated by a freak occurrence – a successful mid-tournament tweak by England and the only goal of Mark Wright’s international career. What were the odds?

Egypt then lapsed into freakishness themselves, continually finding barmy ways to avoid qualifying for the tournament despite being the best team in Africa for most of the 21 st century. But now, at last, they are going back. And they’re worried. And not just about Salah’s groin or the state of Ahmed Hegazi’s mind after a season stepping on rakes at West Brom. For there’s also talk now that Egypt’s manager, Héctor Cúper, is about to be poached by a South American country. During his three years at Egypt Cúper has worked wonders of Chris Coleman proportions, devising a game plan based on solidity and giving the ball as quickly as possible to the team’s one magician. Cúper is Argentinian.

According to the Egyptian FA, Cúper is close to agreeing a deal to stay put. “Cúper is not a greedy man and he is not taking advantage of the fact that we need him before the World Cup,” declared the EFA’s Tharwat Sweilam. “He said he loves Egypt and that he wants to stay put. He also said he would give Egypt the priority over any other offer if the financial gaps are not big … Most probably his contract will be extended before the national team’s next training camp in May.” That should put Egyptian minds at ease. For a few seconds. QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“On TV he was talking to an audience who mostly had little knowledge of his prime as a player. Like Abramovich, they had not been present at Stamford Bridge in the mid-70s to see the young captain return an opposition goalkeeper’s clearance straight back into the net from the halfway line, or to witness him play a pass from the edge of his own area and race up the field to meet the return, scoring with a full-length diving header. Nor had they seen the teenager putting a hand on the shoulder of Peter Bonetti to console Chelsea’s veteran keeper for some disastrous error. That was the real and very remarkable Ray Wilkins” – Richard Williams pays tribute to Ray Wilkins, winner of 84 caps (10 of them as captain) and the first England player to be sent off, who has died aged 61. SUPPORT THE GUARDIAN

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“I can’t work out which is the most futile. Writing to World Cup Fiver when there is not even the ultimate honour of a prizeless letter o’the week award on offer: wondering whether I can be bothered to work out how I might insert a backwards R or hoping England do well” – John Stainton.

There’s good news and bad news for England from Fabio Capello. “It is possible that these young men don’t feel the pressure, so they might play without tension!” cheered Capello, before his brows furrowed and his eyes darkened: “A key problem, in my opinion, is that they come very physically tired to compete with teams whose players are not so fatigued.”