Egypt revived hopes of appearing at the FIFA World Cup™ for the first time in 20 years with a 3-0 triumph over Rwanda in Cairo. It was a must-win for the 'Pharaohs' before approximately 35,000 fans and midfielders Mohamed Aboutrika [twice] and Hosny Abd Rabou scored in the second half for a team that troubled Brazil and beat world champions Italy last month at the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009.
Victory lifted reigning African champions Egypt from last place on the Group C table to second, level on four points with Zambia and three adrift of Algeria at the halfway stage of the final qualifying phase. Rwanda have only one point in the race to finish first and qualify for South Africa 2010, which shall be the first time the world football showpiece will be staged in Africa.
The matches double as eliminators for the 2010 African Nations Cup in Angola, with the top three teams on the final standings securing places at a championship staged every two years. Although Egypt have lifted the Nations Cup trophy a record six times, the Pharaohs have managed just two FIFA World Cup appearances, with the last being at the 1990 finals in Italy where they went out after the first round.
A home draw with Zambia and an away loss to Algeria placed unexpected pressure on an Egyptian team, who were lacking captain Ahmed Hassan, fellow midfielder Ahmed Fathi and striker Amr Zaki through injury and suspension. Hassan nonetheless rallied his team-mates ahead of the crucial game by insisting all was not lost in the chase to overtake resurgent Algeria and they were quickly into their stride, albeit without being able to sting the 'Wasps' defence.
Defender Wael Gomaa, Abd Rabou and Germany-based striker Mohamed Zidan squandered chances to break the deadlock before the central Africans settled, using the offside trap effectively. Rwanda, whose only previous match with Egypt ended in a 5-1 loss five years ago, created a clear chance only for a Harouna Niyonzima chip to finish just off target with veteran goalkeeper Essam al-Hadary beaten.
Unmarked Zidan allowed another opportunity to slip before Rwandan goalkeeper Jean-Claude Ndori was finally beaten 20 minutes into the second half when Aboutrika headed an Abd Rabou cross into the net. Abd Rabou got the second by sending Ndori the wrong way from a 76th-minute penalty awarded for a foul on substitute striker Ahmed Raouf. Aboutrika tapped home the third three minutes into stoppage time, after receiving a perfect ball from Ahmed Eid Abdel Malek.
The road ahead
Egypt visit Rwanda and Zambia in September and October before completing their mini-league schedule at home to Algeria during November.