Egypt first appeared at a World Cup in 1934, a tournament they qualified for by comfortably beating Palestine (under British Mandate). I
n the finals they played just one match and were beaten 4-2 by Hungary in Naples. Hungary were given “a surprisingly hard time of it”, according to Brian Glanville’s History of the World Cup.
That would prove to be their, and indeed any African nation’s, sole World Cup match for decades — mainly due to FIFA restricting the whole of Asia and Africa to the equivalent of just half a place in each tournament until 1970.
Egypt’s dominant period in African football in the late fifties could have seen them send a competitive side to Sweden in 1958, but political tensions with Israel meant they withdrew from qualification that year, and then again for Chile 1962.
A boycott by all African nations in 1966 finally got FIFA’s attention, and from 1970 onwards Africa have always been represented.
With only one or two places up for grabs, the 1970s and 1980s qualification campaigns ended in heartbreak for the Pharaohs as they were edged out twice by Tunisia and then twice by Morocco.
Eventually it took a 1-0 victory over two legs against yet another North African neighbour, Algeria, to end over more than half a century of pain.
Their reward for qualifying for Italia ’90 was a daunting opening match against a Netherlands side that had stormed to the European Championship in Germany just two years earlier.
They fell behind on the 58th minute to Wim Keift’s fine half volley and the result most people expected was set to come in.
Ronald Koeman, in what would infamously not be the last professional foul of his career, brings down legendary striker Hossam Hassan to gift the Egyptians a penalty with just seven minutes remaining.
Magdi Abdelghani very cooly and precisely dispatches the penalty…
What Happened Next?
This goal was enough to hold the European Champions to a draw, but that was as good as it got for Egypt as they played out a desperate 0-0 draw with Republic of Ireland before narrowly losing to England in the final group game, therefore finishing last in the group.
The Netherlands continued to underwhelm in the tournament and lost in the last 16 to eventual winners Germany.
Despite a plethora of success on the African continent at both club and national team level, Egypt failed to qualify for every World Cup since 1990 until Mo Salah’s penalty sent them to Russia 2018.
Abdelghani had previously helped Egypt to African Cup of Nations glory in 1986, and the midfielder spent most of his career in his homeland. He finished with 5 goals in 50 games for the Pharaohs.
Abdelghani’s post playing career involved media work, including appearing in a legendary commercial for Vodafone where he can be seen recounting his most famous moment to his fellow countrymen in various settings before sending a message to Hans van Breukelen, reminding the Dutch goalkeeper of it too.
Egyptian commentary of the goal against the Netherlands…
Egypt qualify for the 1990 World Cup