The tale of Egypt's 1990 World Cup participation told by Ahmed El-Kas

The former Egypt forward recalls the team's last World Cup participation in 1990 and compares his generation with the current crop ahead of the 2018 edition

Mohamad Mosselhi, Wednesday 13 Jun 2018,
Ahmed El-Kas

Almost three decades ago, several home-based stars steered Egypt to their first World Cup place in 56 years, with an embarrassment of riches lifting the team to the 1990 Italy finals.  

Boasting the likes of Hassan twins Hossam and Ibrahim, goalkeeper Ahmed Shobeir, defender Hany Ramzy and classy attacking midfielder Ahmed El-Kas, an efficient Egypt side defeated Algeria 1-0 on aggregate in a qualifying playoff to book their World Cup place.

El-Kas, who was the orchestrator of Egypt's attacks at the time under late coach Mahmoud El-Gohari, said the national team faced a difficult mission in that qualifying campaign.

"Our mission in the World Cup qualifiers was not easy," El-Kas said in an interview with Al-Ahram.

"We managed to top our group in the first round of the qualifiers before facing Algeria in a two-legged tie to determine the second African representative after Cameroon, who booked the other qualifying ticket."

The country was engulfed with joy following Egypt's qualification but El-Gohari and his men had no time to celebrate.

To give Egypt more time to prepare for the World Cup, the country's football association called off the domestic league in 1990 and decided to send a B team to the Africa Cup of Nations in the same year.

Despite the presence of locally-based stars, Egypt were still aware they lacked the sufficient experience to play at the World Cup because they had only two players plying their trade abroad – Magdi Abdel-Ghani and Magdi Tolba who played for Beira-Mar (Portugal) and PAOK (Greece) respectively.

Egypt played many friendly games to make up for their lack of experience ahead of the prestigious showpiece.

''It was totally different back then. The current generation includes many players who played in Europe. Most of the players we had in 1990 were amateurs and that’s why we played around 30 friendly games against teams from all over the world, especially from Europe," he added.

Netherlands challenge

The draw of the World Cup was a very tough one for Egypt as they were paired with European champions the Netherlands, England and Ireland.

 "Despite this big number of friendly games we played, we were still afraid of the European heavyweights especially the Netherlands, who were crowned European champions two years earlier in 1988 with their terrific trio of Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten and Frank Rijkaard," El-Kas said.

"But despite the toughness of our group we went to Italy determined to perform well and to defend the reputation of Egyptian football."

Few days before the anticipated game against Netherlands in the group opener, Egypt's players started to feel the heat. The main question among them was how can we hold out, and what will be the score?

"With his great experience, coach El-Gohary noticed that the players were tense before the game. He sat down with all of the players and told us we needed to ease the pressure on ourselves and play our normal football, without being too much impressed by the names of Netherlands stars.

"But the players were still very afraid. The Netherlands' dressing room was close to ours. The Players went to their dressing room to see the opponents. This is Van Basten and Gullit. We had a strange feeling after seeing them; are we going to play against those players? Gohary came and asked the Egypt players to enter their dressing room and ignore the Dutch players.

"In the corridor just before the game, we came face to face with them. Frankly they were very friendly and they shook hands with us and they were smiley. It seemed this was because they were confident they would easily win the game," El-Kas added.

Defying all the odds, Egypt produced one of their best-ever performances in a remarkable 1-1 draw with the Netherlands.

Despite falling behind to a goal from Wim Kieft early in the second half, Egypt rallied back to restore parity via a penalty from midfielder Magdi Abdel-Ghani, which was awarded after striker Hossam Hassan was tugged by defender Ronald Koeman.

Egypt also squandered several goal-scoring chances which if converted would have given them a stunning win.

"In football, showing courage on the pitch makes you perform well. The doubts we had before the game were normal," said El-Kas.

"The technical gap was huge, but we ignored this fact after five minutes of the game. As the game progressed, we gained more confidence. Despite conceding a goal we were not tense and we were confident that we will equalize."

Confidence skyrocketed after that famous draw. Local media sang the praises of the Egyptian national team and there was a sense of optimism that Egypt can overcame Ireland in their next game.

But Egypt played out a 0-0 draw with Ireland in a bore game before bowing out of the World Cup with a 1-0 loss to England.

"After the Netherlands draw, Gohari told the players the remaining two games would be more difficult than the opener," El-Kas added.

"England and Ireland were technically inferior to the Netherlands but they were physically superior.  Despite gaining a lot of confidence after Netherlands' draw, we suffered against those two teams as we were held to a goalless draw by Ireland before losing to England 1-0."

The England defeat ended Egypt's adventure in the World Cup as the Pharaohs finished at the bottom of Group F with two points.

Al-Kass believes that Egypt would have a better chance to advance beyond the group stage at the 2018 World Cup.

Boasting the likes of Liverpool's Mohamed Salah, Arsenal's Mohamed Elneny and Turkey-based winger Mahmoud Trezeguet, Egypt may take advantage of an experience they never had in 1990.

"I am optimistic regarding Egypt's chances at the World Cup. Their group is relatively easy and they have many good players who are experienced enough to deal with the pressure of playing in such a tournament. This was not the case in 1990," he said.

"I also have faith in coach Hector Cuper's capabilities. With his effective defensive strategy, we can easily progress from the group stage and go far in the World Cup."


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