No longer perfect

Alaa Abdel-Ghani , Tuesday 11 Jun 2024

Egypt had their perfect record in the African qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup snapped but still lead their group, reports Alaa Abdel-Ghani

Egypt VS Guinea-Bissau


Egypt are no longer 100 per cent.

The team saw their three-game winning streak and perfect qualifying campaign end on Monday after tying 1-1 with Guinea-Bissau in the first leg in Bissau as part of the African qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup.

Mama Balde collected a poorly cleared ball by the Egyptian defence to score from close range in the 42nd minute as the hosts took the lead.

But Liverpool ace Mohamed Salah levelled the score in the 70th minute after cutting onto his left foot and shooting into the top corner.

Egypt’s rookie coach Hossam Hassan, speaking after the game, was not too perturbed by the winning streak ending.
“We didn’t play alone, and it is normal to have a draw in a game. I always aim for a win, but if I can’t achieve it, the most important thing for me is to avoid a loss.”

Following the draw, Egypt were still atop their Group A with 10 points from four matches with six left.

Guinea-Bissau follow with six points. Burkina Faso are third with five points, tied with Sierra Leone but lead on goal difference.

Ethiopia are in fifth place with three points and Djibouti last with one.

Three days earlier, Mahmoud Trezeguet had scored an early brace as Egypt eked out a narrow 2-1 victory over Burkina Faso in the first leg in Cairo.

Egypt took control of the game on 7 June as former Aston Villa forward and current Trabzonspor player Trezeguet struck twice in the opening seven minutes, first with a powerful header from Salah’s cross and then with a low left-footed strike across goal.

The Pharaohs saw out victory despite Lassina Traore pulling one back from close range 11 minutes after the break.

The win was the first official game for Hassan, the country’s all-time leading international goal scorer. Hassan replaced the Portuguese Rui Vitoria following its ouster in the round of 16 in the Africa Cup of Nations played in Ivory Coast earlier this year.

Not only is Hassan’s team ahead in the standings but should be able to go all the way to the World Cup.

Only five African countries played in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and in several other previous World Cups.

But now that the 2026 World Cup has expanded from 32 countries to a record 48, so too has the number of African countries increased.

The continent has a guaranteed nine places at the 2026 finals. It starts by placing six countries in nine groups each.

Fixtures will be played in a round-robin format home and away. The nine group winners will qualify for the World Cup.

The four best-ranked second-placed sides will get a second chance to qualify. They will be drawn into play-offs, with a semi-final and final determining which African side will advance to an intercontinental play-off tournament.

If that doesn’t work for some teams, there is a final intercontinental qualifying round involving six teams competing for the final two places at the 2026 finals.

By the end of the qualifications, 10 African countries could appear in the World Cup.

In translation, it means that any one of the 54 competing African countries has not one, not two, but three opportunities to make it to the World Cup.

Seeing that Egypt is in a relatively weak group, the country should be able to make it to the World Cup for only the fourth time in their history, the last being in 2018.

But before that could happen, Egypt, like all the others, must endure a long, drawn-out process. The qualifiers, which began in November last year, do not resume until March next year.

The last qualifying round for the last remaining hopefuls is expected to be held in March 2026.

Each qualifying group for 2026 contains at least one side who have previously reached the tournament but an expansion to nine guaranteed qualifiers means there is a chance for some debutants to appear on football’s biggest world stage. The new faces would be a welcome addition since only 13 African countries have ever played at a World Cup,

The World Cup is taking place from 11 June to 19 July 2026. It will be jointly hosted by 16 cities in three North American countries: the US, Canada and Mexico. The tournament will be the first hosted by three nations.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 13 June, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly


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