Egypt vs. Uruguay: Pharaohs making up for lost time


It's one of the cruel 'injustices' of African football that Egypt's Golden Generation never made it to the World Cup, but now's the moment for this squad to make up for lost time.

The history of African football is littered with various 'injustices' and missed opportunities.

It's a bitter shame that the great Zaire side of the late 60s and early 70s were so eternally mischaracterised by their 'iconic' showing at the 1974 World Cup, and a bitter shame that Michael Essien's best years were denied him by injury.

On the theme of Ghana, we'll never know what might have been at the 2010 had Luis Suarez not handled the ball in the 120th minute of Uruguay's semi final against the Black Stars, while it's intriguing to imagine what the Algeria team of 1982 might have achieved had Germany and Austria not colluded to eliminate them in the 'Disgrace of Gijon'.

Perhaps the greatest missed opportunity in the history of African football, however, was the failure of Egypt's Golden Generation to test themselves against the world's finest on the grandest stage of all.

Between 2006 and 2010, the Pharaohs won an unprecedented hat-trick of African Cup of Nations titles, enjoying a remarkable period of dominance and making legends of a sublime collection of players.

This was no fallow period for the African game either, and Egypt eclipsed Samuel Eto'o's fine Cameroon side of the turn of the century, overshadowed the Ghana team that made history at both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, and thwarted - on several occasions - the Ivory Coast's own Golden Generation.

While the likes of Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou and Yaya Toure were racking up the honours at club level at some of Europe's grandest sides, Egypt, many of whom opted to pursue their careers almost exclusively on home soil, built a legacy of continental success.

However, the World Cup eluded them on three occasions.

They missed out on the 2006 tournament after finishing behind the Ivory Coast and Cameroon in their qualifying group, and were denied four years later after being defeated in an exceptional playoff against Algeria in Omdurman after the duo finished exactly level in their group.

With that defeat, arguably the Golden Generation's greatest opportunity to grace the world stage eluded them, and their final hurrah ahead of the 2014 tournament is perhaps best forgotten.

On that occasion, pitted against Ghana in a two-legged playoff, the ageing vestiges of that great side were decimated 6-1 in Kumasi.


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Perhaps it wasn't as heartbreaking as the playoff defeat by bitter rivals Algeria, but it was final, fatal confirmation that one of the greatest sides Africa had ever produced wouldn't get the chance to test themselves on the grandest stage of all.

In continental competition, Egypt's most memorable highs were followed by some of their bitterest lows, as the Golden Generation aged and missed out on AFCON qualification in 2012, 2013 and 2015.

This was Genesis 41 writ large and in vivid technicolour, although from the Pharaohs' lowest ebb would emerge - arguably - their biggest international superstar.

Mohamed Salah was already part of the side in 2013, when Egypt were so emphatically dispatched by Ghana, and he - along with the likes of Mohamed Elneny and old-timers such as Essam El Hadary and Ahmed Fathi would go onto form the basis of the new Pharaohs side.

Major progress was made as they ended their AFCON exile and then reached the final, only to be pipped by Cameroon in Libreville, and followed that up with World Cup qualification - nabbing their spot in Russia in some style.

They were helped by Ghana's stark decline under Avram Grant and then Kwesi Appiah, but Egypt didn't have it all their own way during qualification - notably being defeated 1-0 by Uganda in Kampala where Denis Onyango's heroics threatened to derail the World Cup dream.

However, in Salah, they have a player apparently determined to make amends for the Golden Generation's great failure, and winners against the Cranes and Congo-Brazzaville - the latter a 94th-minute penalty - in Alexandria, finally ended Egypt's wait to return to the World Cup.

It's a bitter irony that as the nation's greatest team faded away, their greatest international export emerged to the fore to drag the Pharaohs to Russia.

Indeed, it's hard to find too many examples of African players - let alone Egyptians - to have thrived in a major European league quite as Salah has this term.

Certainly, none of the Golden Generation ever came close to emulating his feat of 42 goals across the Premier League and the Champions League in a single campaign, and Salah has already given this side an edge that could lift them beyond their predecessors in the public psyche.