Start of World Cup ambitions

Alaa Abdel-Ghani , Tuesday 14 Nov 2023

Egypt play their first game in the qualifiers, hoping to reach the revamped 2026 football showcase, reports Alaa Abdel-Ghani

Egyptian Para swimming



Egypt start their 2026 World Cup qualifying matches this week as they bid for their fourth appearance in the tournament.

Egypt will face Djibouti on 16 November in Cairo, followed by an away game against Sierra Leone on 19 November.

The Pharaohs are placed in Group A in these African qualifiers along with Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau and Ethiopia.

According to the new setup, the 2026 World Cup will, for the first time, be played in three host countries — the US, Canada and Mexico — and will also have a record 48 teams, a jump from the usual 32.

The increase means that Africa will have at least nine countries participating in 2026 when the normal was five.

The African qualifiers comprise 54 countries, divided into nine groups of six, with the winner of each group qualifying directly for the World Cup.

The four best runners-up from the groups will play in a play-off tournament, and the winner will play in a FIFA play-off tournament.

That means nine African countries will go straight to the World Cup while a 10th could also make it depending on the outcome of the playoffs.

So, even if a country does not finish top of its group for automatic qualification, it still has two more chances to qualify.

Egypt have gone only three times to the World Cup, the last in Russia 2018 where they lost all three group games.

The qualifiers also provide the opportunity to fine-tune Egypt who will also be playing in the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) scheduled to take place in Cote d’Ivoire in January 2024. The Pharaohs are placed in Group B of the competition along with Cape Verde, Mozambique, and Ghana. Egypt hope to add to their record of seven continental titles.

Mr October

Egypt’s captain Mohamed Salah will spearhead the team in the World Cup qualifiers. Salah, Liverpool’s star forward, was chosen the Premier League Player of the Month in October for his scintillating performance.

Salah scored in all three of Liverpool’s matches in October, netting twice against both Brighten and Everton before adding another in the Reds’ 3-0 win over Nottingham Forest at the end of the October.

Salah moves alongside Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie to win the accolade for a fifth time, and now has more Player of the Month awards than any other active Premier League player. The accolade has been claimed the most times by former Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero and former Tottenham star Harry Kane, who each won it seven times.

After finishing a disappointing 11th in the recent Ballon d’Or, to date Salah has scored 10 goals for Liverpool in the Premier League after 12 games, only three behind Manchester City’s Erling Haaland.

Zamalek in Cup final

Zamalek reached the final of the Egyptian Cup last week after beating Pyramids FC 4-3 on penalties following a see-saw semi-final affair that ended 3-3 after extra time.

Zamalek were behind a goal three times in the match that ultimately went to penalties. Zamalek goalkeeper Mohamed Awwad saved two shots during the shootout, sending his team to the final against Ahly but the date has yet to be determined.

It was the first match for interim coach Moatamed Gamal who took over from Colombian coach Juan Carlos Osorio who was shown the door following two straight losses in the domestic league.

Zamalek had suspended three players, including internationals Ahmed Fattouh and Mohamed Sobhi, after the players absconded from the team’s camp the day before a league game against ZED FC, one of the two teams Zamalek had lost to. However, fullback Fattouh and goalkeeper Sobhi have been chosen by Egypt’s coach Rui Vitoria to play in the African World Cup qualifiers.

The Portuguese said he would not exclude the duo from the AFCON squad either, saying he would only deal with matters concerning the national team, and that no one could force him to include or exclude players.

Sundowns win inaugural event

South African side Mamelodi Sundowns were crowned the first-ever African Football League (AFL) champions after a 2-0 second leg victory over Wydad Casablanca that sealed a 3-2 aggregate triumph.

Sundowns went into the home leg trailing 2-1 but turned the tie around thanks to goals from Peter Shalulile and Aubrey Modiba in Loftus Versfeld Stadium.

Sundowns, who beat Ahly of Egypt in the semi-finals, will receive $4 million as the winner of the inaugural event, the largest prize money in the continent’s football clubs competitions.

Runner-up Wydad will get $3 million. The semi-finalists will pocket $1.7 million while $1 million will go to the quarter-finalists.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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