Internal politics, failed social reforms and civil unrest have torn Egypt apart during the last decade. There were also matters of the Arab Spring, which led to the rise of religious extremists, famine due to years of draught and internal instability, which effected each phase of life in the Arab world's leading and most important country.
Football? Did somebody really care much about football?
Well, Egyptians do care now, after the national team qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia.
The national team has never reached international plateau, despite being Africa's most decorated team, with a record seven wins of Africa Cup of Nation, the last one in 2010. Outside the continent, the team did poorly, qualifying for the 1934 and 1990 World Cups, both held in Italy, and doing little in between.
Egypt's Premier League structure resembles that of Scotland – two super teams winning a record number of trophies and leaving only crumbs to the others. Over the years, the derbies between Cairo's Al Ahly (39 national titles) and Giza's Zamalek (12 league titles) were, and still are, always political, sometimes violent, always steamy, dragging a major part of the country into the war of football. There is no in between, as they say in Egypt You are either for Al Ahly, or Zamalek. The only thing fans of the two clubs agree on, is to support the national team, whose squad is a mixture of the two clubs, strengthened by a few players from other clubs, mainly playing overseas.
And on a certain October night, Egypt exploded. Only this time around, there were no sirens of ambulances rushing the dead and injured to hospitals, no cries for help, no screams of the wounded. Mohamed Salah's stoppage time goal gave Egypt a 2-1 win over Congo and a place in the 2018 World Cup for the first time in 28 years. There were no Al Ahly or Zamalek fans in the streets, but Egyptians, who forgot all about day to day difficulties and hardships, about social and economic struggles, about religious conflicts, who would affect the country for years to come. There were cars packing the streets, honking horns and people shouting in joy, there were masses gathered in Tahrir Square for one of the first times since the uprising of 2011. Hell, there were air force helicopters flying above, dropping Egyptian flags over the crowd. It was a sweet and powerful show of the strength and unifying force football can be.
Now the team of Argentinian coach Hector Cuper is going to the big tournament. It will probably not advance from the group stage, but no one expects it to do so. The coach who took Spanish side Valencia to two consecutives Champions League finals and lost, who took Mallorca to the final of the UEFA Cup Winners Cup and lost, who was a game away from winning Inter's first Scudetto in 13 years and lost, simply can't lose now, having achieved pride and happiness for a country that has known nothing of the sorts during recent years.
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