Egypt celebrate first World Cup spot in 28 years
Egypt's capital Cairo crackled with fireworks and blared with horns as the football-crazy country reached the World Cup for the first time in 28 years and rare scenes of joy took hold of city blocks celebrating a 2-1 victory over Congo yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Winger Mohamed Salah scored twice, securing victory with a dramatic 95th-minute penalty to put Egypt four points clear with one match left in their African Group E qualifying campaign.
The win clinched Egypt a long-awaited spot in Russia for next year's World Cup Finals, where the Arab world's most populous country will compete on football's ultimate stage for the first time since Italy 1990.
Said Liverpool star Salah: "When I stepped up to take the penalty, I didn't think of anything but scoring and winning the game.
"That was to me a dream come true, whether as a footballer or an Egyptian citizen and fan.
"I'm proud today by scoring twice against Congo."
The raucous mood spilling out on the streets marked a respite for Egyptians after years of hardship, from IMF-backed austerity reforms that have pushed inflation to record highs to a tough law on protests that has made public gatherings exceedingly rare after two presidents were toppled since a 2011 uprising.
Didier Drogba commended his former Chelsea teammate Salah after the player's heroics.
The former Ivory Coast captain Drogba wrote on Twitter: "Proud of my brother @22mosalah u became a real leader of a Nation reminds me of Cote d'Ivoire in 2006 #thebeautifulgame #russia2018."
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi congratulated the Egyptian people after the match as tireless fans draped in flags turned the streets into an impromptu parade of red, white and black.
Just across the border in neighbouring Gaza, where Egypt has led a political reconciliation process, thousands of Palestinians poured into an open-air park to cheer on the second Arab country to qualify for next year's World Cup after Saudi Arabia.
"You can look around and see how people are happy. This is something you never witness in Egypt," said 23-year-old Gamal Mohamed in downtown Cairo's Tahrir Square.
Gaber Fathy, 41, added: "It's been 28 years and we're finally going to enter the World Cup. Today is a day of celebration for the entire country." - WIRE SERVICES