Meet Egypt, the record seven-time Africa Cup of Nations champions and the oldest team in African football history.
|Official name:||Egypt national football team|
|Known as:||Egypt, The Pharaohs|
|Year formed:||November 30, 1920|
|Stadium:||Cairo International Stadium|
|Colours:||Red (Home) | White (Away)|
Founded in 1920, Egypt are the oldest African team in history and the only one to branch to FIFA in the pre-second World War era. They’re also the first to take part in a World Cup. While also being one of the Confederation of African Football’s (CAF) founding members in 1957.
First African team in a World Cup
Built-in time for the 1920 Olympics, Egypt lost their opening game 2-1 to Italy in Belgium. It wasn’t for another 14 years before they hit headlines again. This time in becoming Africa’s first country to qualify for the World Cup.
Sadly, Egypt suffered a 4-2 defeat to Hungary in their first and only match of the tournament. The loss in Naples condemned them to a last-16 exit. They wouldn’t qualify for another World Cup in 56 years. An unwanted record the team shares with Norway, who failed to qualify between 1938 and 1994.
But while things didn’t go to plan on the big-stage, Egypt enjoyed success in African competitions in the 1950s.
The Pharaohs won the inaugural Africa Cup of Nations in 1957, beating hosts Sudan 2-1 to book a spot in the final. They then thrashed Ethiopia 4-0 in Khartoum. Ad-Diba was the hero, having scored all four goals in the final. The Al Ittihad forward naturally finished as the competition’s top-scorer on five goals.
Egypt kept their title in 1959 in another three-team tournament, comprising Sudan and Ethiopia again. The team name was officially the United Arab Republic because of political unity with Syria. Although the AFCON crown rightfully belongs to the Egyptian team’s records.
27-year AFCON title drought
The 1962 African Cup of Nations was the beginning of a difficult period in Egyptian football history. Ethiopia dethroned them by winning 4-2 in the final. Thus, Africa finally had a new champion. Little did anyone, though, was the long wait that Egypt faced in the upcoming years.
The Pharaohs almost went three decades without adding a third AFCON title to their haul. With a growing number of participants, things got more difficult. There were a few close calls during those years, but nothing came to fruition. While eight different national teams became champions of Africa.
Those teams were Ghana, DR Congo, Sudan, Congo, Zaire, Morocco, Nigeria and Cameroon.
While the Egyptian Football Association turned to 17 different coaches during these hard times. Results never really improved, though. The team were consistently competitive in AFCON tournaments, having reached six semi-finals. But they always failed at the final hurdle between 1963 and 1984.
Things in the Olympic Games, meanwhile, fared no better for them. Aside from a fourth-place finish in Tokyo 1964, Egypt normally suffered first-round exits.
While hopes of competing in a second World Cup tournament were practically nil, with Egypt frequently failing to qualify.
Return to the World Cup
The appointment of Mike Smith as manager prompted a change in fortunes. After 27 years of close calls, Egypt were champions of Africa again in 1986. This victory signalled the start of a new era for Egyptian football.
Despite suffering an opening-day defeat to Senegal, Smith’s men bounced back in style. 2-0 victories over Ivory Coast and Mozambique secured the top spot in Group A. They then defeated Morocco in the semi-finals. That win sealed them a spot in the final for the first time in 24 years.
The Pharaohs proceeded to beat reigning champions Cameroon 5-4 on penalties to win the final after finishing goalless. Therefore, Smith became the first and only British coach to win the AFCON.
Egypt later won Gold in the 1987 All-Africa Games before Smith departed a year later to return to England.
The Englishman’s departure coincided with a drop in form, with the national team suffering three consecutive group-stage exits in the AFCON.
Although Smith’s successor, Mahmoud El Gohary, led Egypt to a second World Cup appearance in 1990. Hossam Hassan’s winner in the playoff against Algeria booked their spot.
And while Egypt didn’t progress past the group stages in Italy, they impressed everyone. Holding the Netherlands to a 1-1 draw was a particularly profound moment. Especially with Dutch icons like Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit in their prime as opponents. Between the pair, they shared four Ballon d’Or awards.
The Golden Generation?
Despite their solid showing in Italy, however, Egypt waited another 28 years for more World Cup action. They suffered a string of disappointments, especially in the early 90s. Winning a first Arab Cup of Nations was of small consolation.
It wasn’t until the late 90s when things picked up for Egypt, concluding with a fourth AFCON title in 1998. While there were a few further setbacks afterwards, success was just around the corner.
Things peaked between 2006 and 2010, with Egypt becoming the dominant force of African football. They won three consecutive AFCON titles in that period. While the likes of Ahmad Hassan, Essam El-Hadary, Mohamed Aboutrika and Wael Gomaa all starred for the national team.
This squad was arguably the closest thing to a ‘Golden Generation’ that Egypt have experienced. Perhaps not the strongest ever seen. They delivered big time nonetheless. It was the most triumphant period in the national team’s history.
But Egypt failed to qualify for the 2012 AFCON; amid the horrific event of the Port Said Stadium riot that year. 74 people lost their lives during the country’s biggest football disaster. Therefore, the Egyptian government cancelled all domestic football activities for the next two years. This severely hampered the national team, resulting in their failure to qualify for future AFCONs.
Although Hector Cuper’s appointment in 2015 led to a reversal in fortunes. For once, Egypt had a manager who knew how to get the job done. Leading Valencia to back-to-back Champions League finals between 2000 and 2001 proved that.
Despite the defensive tactics, Cuper delivered results for Egypt by reaching the 2017 AFCON final and qualifying for the World Cup a year later.
But the EFA eventually sacked him following a disappointing campaign in Russia; replacing him with Javier Aguirre.
Despite winning nine of his 12 games, Aguirre didn’t last a year in his role. A shock last-16 exit in the 2019 AFCON on home soil led to the Mexican’s dismissal. Therefore, Hossam El Badry has been in charge ever since.
Egypt are currently undefeated in their opening four games under the former Al Ahly defender.
Now all efforts will be focused on the next AFCON tournament in Cameroon next year. While the 2022 World Cup is just around the corner, with Egypt scheduled to begin their qualifiers in October.
And with an in-form Mohamed Salah leading the charge, the Pharaohs will be hopeful of topping Group F.
All-time record appearances
|3||Essam El Hadary||159|
|4||Ahmed Fathy (*)||134|
|8||Ahmed El Kass||112|
|9||Abdel Zaher El Sakka||112|
(*) = Active
All-time record goalscorers
|2||Hassan El Shazly||42|
|3||Mohamed Salah (*)||41|
|4||Mohamed Abou Trika||38|
|8||Ahmed El Kass||25|
|9||Mahmoud El Khatib||24|
|10||Gamal Abdel Hamid||24|
(*) = Active
|Africa Cup of Nations||All-Africa Games||Pan Arabic Games|