Egyptian sports in 2017: Football glory, world medals in swimming, weightlifting and squash

Ahram Online , Thursday 28 Dec 2017

In arguably the best year in Egyptian sports history, the national football team reached the World Cup while swimming, weightlifting and squash delivered world medals for the country

Egypt team
Egyptian players celebrate their long-awaited World Cup qualification (AFP)

The Pharaohs back among the elites

They may not have won a trophy but this year was still remarkable for Egypt's national football team, having reached the African Nations Cup final before ending a 28-year wait for a World Cup appearance, making up for six catastrophic years

Egypt were not favourites to go far at the Nations Cup finals in Gabon, given that they could not even qualify for the past three editions, but they defied the odds to reach the final in February after the cautious defensive strategy of Argentinean coach Hector Cuper proved highly efficient.

Despite being held to a goalless draw by Mali in the group opener, they claimed two consecutive wins over Uganda and Ghana to advance to the quarterfinals as group leaders.

The Pharaohs booked a last-four berth after laying Morocco's ghosts to rest, defeating them 1-0 via a late goal from winger Mahmoud Kahraba to secure their first win over their North African rivals since 1986.  

In the semis, Egypt's veteran goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary produced a heroic display in the shootout against Burkina Faso, blocking two spot-kicks as his side prevailed 4-3 on penalties following a 1-1 draw.

They looked on course to winning a record-extending eighth title when Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Elneny gave them an early lead over Cameroon following a brilliant move, only for the Indomitable Lions to hit back with two goals after tired legs cost Egypt dearly.

Finishing as runners-up was a favourable outcome for Egypt but a bigger feat followed, with the team ending their World Cup jinx to reach next year's finals in Russia.

They did so with one match to spare in their group after two near-misses in the 2010 and 2014 World Cup qualifiers, beating Congo 2-1 in a dramatic match in Alexandria in October where Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah scored twice, including a last-gasp penalty after Congo had earlier leveled the score.  

Egypt ended their qualifying campaign with a 1-1 draw away to Ghana to finish on top of their group with 13 points, four clear of Uganda.

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah hits new heights

Liverpool's Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring the second goal during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium in London on December 22, 2017 AFP

Egypt winger Mohamed Salah had a year to remember, hitting new heights to become the country's best foreign-based player of all time.

A summer move from AS Roma to Liverpool proved a turning point in the career of the 25-year-old, who took the elite English Premier League by storm to earn widespread acclaim from coach Juergen Klopp, his teammates, the team's fans, pundits and many former and current football stars, including Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane and Argentinean great Diego Maradona.

He was second behind Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane in the Premier League scoring charts at the halfway stage of the season, having scored 15 goals in 20 appearances after putting in a series of dazzling displays.

Salah also netted six Champions League goals in eight matches to help lift Liverpool to the round of 16.

He had a point to prove after an unfruitful spell at Chelsea from 2014 to 2016 and he duly delivered, having developed many aspects of his game under the stewardship of German tactician Klopp.

A more physical Salah is now making it more difficult for his challengers to steal possession or even upend him and his impressive run has earned him the BBC African Footballer of the Year award.

Salah, who is a product of the youth academy of Egyptian club Arab Contractors, is also a frontrunner to land CAF's prestigious award for the best player in Africa. Ahly's iconic footballer Mahmoud El-Khatib, now the club's chairman, is the only Egyptian to win the prize.

"I am always saying I want to win titles here. I came here to win titles. To win something for the club, for us, for the fans. I would love to win something here. We are working hard every day to win something and I am sure we will this year," Salah said in an interview with Sky Sports.

Golden swimmer Farida Osman makes history

Farida Osman
Bronze medal winner Farida Osman from Egypt during the ceremony for the women's 50-meter butterfly heat during the swimming competitions of the World Aquatics Championships in Budapest, Hungary, Saturday, July 29, 2017. (Photo: AP)

Since winning the World Junior Championship in 2011, Egyptian swimmer Farida Osman has been steadily turning raw talent into stardom, peaking in 2017.

The 22-year-old made history by becoming the first Egyptian swimmer to win a World Championship medal, securing bronze in the 50m butterfly in Budapest.

She achieved a time of 25.39 seconds, missing out on the silver, which was won by Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands, by 0.01 seconds. The gold was claimed by Sweden's Sarah Sjoestroem, who had a time of 24.60 seconds.

Osman broke five African records in the process.

"I am humbled and honoured to have represented Egypt in this historic moment for me, the sport and the country," she said after the unprecedented achievement.

Few months following the world achievement, Osman won the Best African Female Athlete award granted by the Association of National Olympic Committees in Prague on 3 November.

"Being the first Egyptian ever to win a medal at World Championships is so pleasing," she said after receiving the prize at the event.

"It's not only a historic moment for me but also for like Egyptian women, Arab and African women in general.

"This has been a dream for me and I hope this is just the beginning."

Osman, who competed at the 2012 London Olympics at the age of 17, made it to the semi-finals in the 100m fly at the Rio Games in 2014 and will be looking to have a shot at an Olympic medal at the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

For now, her next big test will be the 2019 FINA World Championship in South Korea where she will be hoping to claim more honours.

Weightlifter Mohamed Ihab wins three world golds

Egyptian weightlifter Mohamed Ihab celebrates winning three gold medals at the World Championship in in Anaheim, the United States (Photo: the International Weightlifting Federation's official website)

Egyptian weightlifter Mohamed Ihab etched his name into the history of wrestling by winning three gold medals at the World Championship in Anaheim, the United States early December.

The 28-year-old has not only been able to end Egypt's 66-year drought in World Championships, but also became the first world Champion from Africa in a men’s event since 1984.

Ihab, winner of a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, lifted 165kg in the snatch and 196kg in the clean and jerk to achieve a total of 361kg in the 77kg category.

The country's last gold medals were back in 1951 when Said Gouda and Ibrahim Shams triumphed in Milan in the 60kg and the 67.5kg contests respectively. Africa's last gold was 33 years ago when Nigerian Orok Oliver emerged the winner in the Snatch of the100kg category.

"A big dream come true. It's a great feeling to be on top of the global ranking," Ihab said in a television interview after returning from the United States.

"It was a tough year as I had to do without any training camps abroad but God wanted to make it easy for me when my main competitors; the Kazakhstani (Rio 2016 gold medalist Nijat Rahimov) and the Chinese (Rio 2016 silver-medalist Lu Xiaojun) missed the tournament."

Ihab hopes he will be given more support from the state as he needs to work even harder to have a shot at an Olympic medal in 2020.

"In weightlifting it's all about confidence. There are now big surprises because this sport is about numbers and we all know each other's records. There are no secrets but the event itself is like penalty kicks in football; no matter how often you trained for it, you could always fall in the big event due to various reasons and circumstances. Confidence is the key," he added.

Sara Samir, first female weightlifter to win gold

Sara Samir
Egypt's Sara Samir (L2) celebrates winning a gold medal at the 2017 World weightlifting championship in Anheim, United States, in December (Photo: the International Weightlifting Federation's official website)

After becoming the first Egyptian female to win a medal in the Olympics, Sara Samir secured another accolade by becoming the first female to win a gold medal in the 2017 World Weightlifting Championship in Anheim, the United States early in December.

Samir, who will turn 20 on 1 January, clinched the gold medal after lifting 136kg in the clean and jerk. However, she could not add further gold medals after failing in her three attempts in the snatch contest.

"I was targeting three medals but I wasn't lucky in the snatch. I lost the snatch and the total medals," the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist explained after the tournament.

"I lifted only 136kg because I ditched training for a whole year after the Olympics because of my high school final exams. I only trained for three months before the World Championship.

"I'm asking for more support for individual sports. Yes, football is ok but individual athletes need good care too," she added.

Squash: A year of dominance

Egypt won a fourth Men World’s Team Championship title after defeating defending champions England (Photo: The World Squash Federation official website)

Egypt swept the World Championships in Manchester, winning the men, women and teams' contests.

Former world number one Mohamed ElShorbagy is back to his best, winning the world title for the first time of his career after beating younger brother Marwan in December in an unprecedented final between siblings.

"Yesterday, when my brother won the match, I celebrated at first, but then, a few minutes later, I was in a shock. I was quiet in bed for hours, thinking oh my God, I actually got to beat my brother to win the world championship. It truly hit me," Mohamed said after the game.

"That title, I waited for a lot of years to win it. To have that match against my brother, to live a moment like that, to share such a moment both of us is such a special feeling. Moments like this we are going to remember all our lives," he added.

ElShorbagy enjoyed a memorable year, winning several titles including the World Series, Hong Kong and Qatar Classic to climb up to world number 2 in the PSA ranking.

In the Women's contest, World number 2 Raneem El Welily also secured her maiden world title after beating compatriot and two-time world champion Nour El Sherbini in the final.

"I will never forget what Nour el Sherbini said about me after the final last year, I’m sorry you were at the losing end today, but I’m sure you’ll be at the other end so so many times, she did an incredible job you know," the 28-year old  said after the game.

In the teams' contest, Egypt also proved too strong for their challengers, defeating champions England in the final to clinch their fourth WSF Men’s World Team Squash Championship title in Marseille.

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