Magdy Abdel Ghany scores from the penalty spot against Netherlands - Press image courtesy of FIFA's official website Magdy Abdel Ghany scores from the penalty spot against Netherlands - Press image courtesy of FIFA's official website

The Pharaohs at FIFA World Cup

Mon, Jun. 11, 2018
Egypt’s comeback to the FIFA World Cup this year has stirred up a national joy, a moment we have all been longing for for almost three decades. But Egypt’s story with the World Cup goes back decades before that; our national squad was the first African team to qualify for a World Cup finals tournament; we scored the first African and Arab goal ever in the World Cup; and we met with some of the world’s top ranking teams in the FIFA world games.

In celebration of the Pharaohs’ return to the world’s most prestigious football tournament, we are tracing back Egypt’s three precious experiences with the FIFA World Cup, ever since we were invited to the very first tournament.

1930:Inaugural FIFA World Cup

AP photo

One of 20 teams that made it to the third round of qualifier matchers, Egypt had to top its Group E (Egypt, Ghana, Uganda and Congo) The Pharaohs were quite close to represent the whole Arab world and African continent at the very first FIFA World Cup, hosted in Uruguay in South America in 1930; however, they had to back down owing to the long travel distance.

The first World Cup tournament was the only time the participants did not have to play any qualifiers. Every country affiliated with FIFA was invited to compete; however, only 13 teams eventually entered the tournament due to the difficulty to travel all the way to South America at the time.

Today, it would take over 18 hours to travel from Egypt to Uruguay by plane. So imagine how it would have been almost a century ago.

1934: Pharaohs’ first World Cup game

1934 -2

Although they missed the first chance, the Egyptian national team still ended up the first Arab and African squad to compete in the World Cup finals, having qualified for the 1934 World Cup held in Italy. By beating Palestine in the qualifier match, Egypt was one of only four countries that qualified from outside Europe, along with Argentina, Brazil and the United States. The qualifying matches were arranged geographically to end up with a total of 16 teams in the tournament; and only one team was to qualify from Asia and Africa, a privilege that the Pharaohs won fair and square.

Egypt’s first World Cup game took place on May 27, against one of the top ranking teams at the time; Hungary. Although Egypt lost the match 4-2, the Egyptian Abdelrahman Fawzy carved his name in history that day, as the first African and Arab player to score in the World Cup.

1990:A precious comeback


After 11 tournaments and over 50 years, Egypt was back to the World Cup in 1990, hosted by Italy once again. This time, the Egyptians went through the standard African qualifiers as we know them now; we were in group B alongside Liberia, Malawi and Kenya. The national team led its group with 8 points from 6 matches; they won in three games, tied in two and lost in only one match against Liberia, which had on its team current Liberian President George Weah, awarded Ballon d’Or in 1995.

After leading its Group B, Egypt had to play against Algeria, a knockout where the winner in both matches would fly to Italy. The first match took place on October 8, 1989 in Constantine, Algeria and ended with a goalless draw, while the second hosted at Cairo International Stadium, on November 19 of the same year, ended 1-0 for the Pharaohs, scored by Egyptian striker Hossam Hassan.

Egypt finally found its way back to the World Cup after 56 years of absence. The draw put the Pharaohs with two of the top ranking teams in the world back then; England and the Netherlands, and the fourth in the group was Ireland.


The national team’s first game was against the Netherlands, which featured some great football icons like Marco Van Basten, Frank Rijkaard, Ronald Koeman and Ruud Gullit. The game saw Egypt’s only goal in the tournament, a penalty nailed by our own icon Magdy Abdel Ghany. It ended with a 1-1 draw. The second game against Ireland was one for the history as it was the reason for a radical change in FIFA rules.

The Egyptian defenders kept returning the ball to the goalkeeper Ahmed Shobeir, and he kept holding it in his hands, wasting the time of the game. FIFA then put a new term in action; that the goalkeeper cannot hold the ball with his hands if it is passed to him by players of his own team. The game ended with a 0-0 tie.

Unfortunately, the Pharaohs then lost their third game against England 1-0; and the adventure ended there … to be revived 28 years later in Russia.
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