Egypt, Africa’s first World Cup participant

Egypt were the first African country to participate at the World Cup finals in 1934, more than three decades before the next appearance by a country from the same continent.

They only played a single game at the 1934 final in Italy, losing 4-2 to Hungary in Naples before taking the boat back home.

In those days, membership of world football’s governing body FIFA was limited but there were still 36 countries who entered the 1934 tournament, which meant that qualification rounds were needed to cut the field to 16 for the finals. The first World Cup in Uruguay four years earlier, in 1930, has 13 participants, all of them invited to take part but this did not include Egypt.

In the 1934 qualifiers, played just two months before the finals, Egypt had to play against British-controlled Palestine in two matches to decide a place in Italy and won easily over two legs with a 7-1 win in Cairo – the first ever World Cup match on African soil – followed one month later by a 4-1 triumph in Jerusalem.

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The Pharaohs were managed by Scotsman James McCrae, who had his own paying career interrupted by the First World War but did play for West Ham United, and led on the field by the goalscoring prowess of Mokhtar El Tetch, still one of the legends of the Egyptian game.

The 1934 World Cup was a straight knockout competition – first round groups were only introduced in 1950. Egypt had made a sensational entry to the world game when they beat Hungary 3-0 at the Paris Olympics in 1920 but his time round Hungary were more experienced as the two countries met at Stadio Ascarelli in front of some 1,2000 spectators.

Hungary went 2-0 up by two goals in the space of four minutes from Abdel Rahman Fawzi just before halftime saw Egypt level at the break, only to concede two more in the second half and be eliminated.

Egypt withdrew from the preliminaries for the 1938 when they were drawn against Romania, as the political tensions of the time and the dark clouds of war dominated the agenda.

There was no African representation in the 1950 finals in Brazil either as the world game got back on its feet after the ravages of the Second World War but Egypt were back for the qualifiers for the 1954 finals.

This was still three years before the founding of the Confederation of African Football and so they were thrown in among the European qualifiers, drawing Italy in a two-legged tie and being beaten 7-1 on aggregate. – Mzansi Football

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