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Ramadan Tales E5: The Fasting and the Furious – Egypt’s Historic 1998 AFCON

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Posted on June 28, 2015

1998 AFCON Egypt African Champions

The fifth episode of KingFut’s  series highlights ’s historic and unpredictable 1998 Africa Cup of Nations triumph in .

It was perhaps the most uncertain July in Egyptian football history. The year was 1997, and the Pharaohs had just failed to reach the World Cup for the second consecutive time. They were also on the verge of the then-unthinkable… not even qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in 20 years.

And even if they did qualify, it was poised to be a disaster. With a coach in Mahmoud El-Gohary supposedly past his prime, no one to score goals with Hossam Hassan seemingly past his, and remaining stars from the team that made the 1990 World Cup in Italy – such has Hany Ramzy – aging and in the twilight of their careers.

Fast-forward to the end of the month, July 27 to be exact. Egypt helplessly awaits the final qualifier of Group 3, needing – already qualified and with nothing of consequence to play for – to get a result against Senegal.

The Atlas Lions would deliver, winning 3-0 at home and seeing the Pharaohs onto the 21st Africa Cup of Nations.

What would ensue is one of the greatest and most unlikely stories in the history of Egyptian football…

Having won just two of it’s previous seven friendlies in the build-up to the tournament in Burkina Faso, it appeared that Egypt was just there to help fill the field of 16 teams.

Reports suggested that the team was fasting in observance of the month of Shawwal, when Muslims often follow-up their obligatory Ramadan fast with optional fasting. Although to the common, sarcastic Egyptian at the time, not even help from up above could help this team, one that barely even made it to the tournament.

Mozambique would offer the perfect start for the confidence-seeking Pharaohs, who won 2-0 on the back of two Hossam Hassan goals in what would prove to be a launchpad for both his and the team’s historic run.

1998 Egypt vs Burkina Faso

Egypt celebrates after scoring against Mozambique at the 1998 Africa Cup of Nations

Next up were Zambia’s Chipolopolo, an always formidable Nations Cup contender still rebuilding after a tragic plane crashed that killed most of the team in 1993.

Not only did the Pharaohs build on the Mozambique win, they handed Zambia what was its worst-ever Nations Cup defeat, a 4-0 shellacking led by a Hossam Hassan hat-trick.

With Egypt’s quarter-finals place now booked, they would play-out a stale, scoreless 89 minutes against Morocco, who were also already through to the knockout stages.

That would mean Egypt wins the group, except for one thing… football is played for 90 minutes.

In that ever-important 90th minute, Egypt’s iron defense would allow its only goal of the tournament, an impeccable bicycle kick from Moroccan legend Mustapha Hadji. The goal gave the Atlas Lions the group summit, and a difficult quarter-final test against defending African champions South Africa, which they would go on to lose.

Egypt’s quarter-final with Ivory Coast would go to penalties, and the biggest test of character yet for the budding champions. They would pass that test, with heroics from goalkeeper Nader El-Sayed and the calm boot of legend Hazem Emam.

Hosts Burkina Faso awaited Egypt in the semi-finals. And Hossam Hassan awaited the Burkinabes, scoring twice, including one of the prettiest goals of the tournament in a link-up with Emam that left the hosts bedazzled and bewildered (seen in the video at the bottom of the page).

Perhaps fittingly, it was defending champions South Africa that remained the only hurdle between the Pharaohs and destiny. Most pundits fancied the Bafana Bafana, who were on their way to the FIFA World Cup later that year.

Egypt poses for a team photo ahead of the 1998 Africa Cup of Nations final against South Africa

Egypt poses for a team photo ahead of the 1998 Africa Cup of Nations final against South Africa

More steely defense from Samir Kammouna, Hany Ramzy, and Medhat Abdelhady, along with gloriously well-drilled set piece plays – a trademark of the El-Gohary era – meant Egypt would emerge with its fourth-ever Nations Cup crown in convincing fashion.

A lasting legacy

The Pharaohs’ 1998 Nations Cup triumph catapulted them into the era of modern football. It meant European transfers for players like Yasser Radwan, Mohamed Emara, Samir Kamouna, and Hazem Emam.

It brought Egypt level with Ghana for the most Africa Cup of Nations titles at the time (4).

Hossam Hassan would remain in Egypt, but finished as the tournament’s joint top-scorer, netting seven goals along with South Africa’s Benni McCarthy.

It meant a long-term deal with cutting-edge kit maker Puma, including factories in Egypt and hundreds of new jobs.

Egypt sports its first official, custom Puma kit in 1999.

Egypt sports its first official, custom Puma kit in 1999.

It marked the first time ever a man would win the Africa Cup of Nations as both a player and a coach, an achievement by El-Gohary perhaps equaled only by his guiding the Pharaohs to the World Cup eight years prior.

It was also the first time a North African nation won Africa’s showpiece event on West African soil.

Egypt would go on to play in its first-ever FIFA Confederations Cup and was the only team that champions Mexico could not beat.

In fact, that match was a microcosm of the fight, grit and determination that Egypt team had.

Down 0-2 with just 10 minutes left, in a rainy, always-menacing Azteca Stadium in Mexico City… Egypt, playing with 10 men after Yasser Radwan’s controversial send-off, somehow found two goals in them to steal a point. By the end of the match, “olé!” chants were ringing out from the home crowd every time Egypt touched the ball.

Choosing Egypt’s best-ever team is a highly subjective task, but a fair examination of this squad from top to bottom reveals that it may very well have been the country’s greatest yet. At the very least, the most balanced, with a silky smooth midfield and a physical, organized defense that today’s Pharaohs only dream of matching.

If nothing else, that 1998 team taught us one thing… never bet against a wounded, fasting Pharaoh with its back against the wall.

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4 Comments

  1. Yehya

    June 28, 2015 at 9:10 PM

    LOL, Its 6 days in Shawal and not 10 and Zambia is a Southern African country and not Western African.

    • Adam Moustafa

      June 28, 2015 at 11:24 PM

      The tournament was won in Burkina Faso, which is West Africa.

      • Ali Hamdy

        June 29, 2015 at 10:05 AM

        Yehya tried to act smart and got put in his place. Thanks Adam. Someone had to put the douchebag in his rightful place.

  2. Yehya Asker

    June 29, 2015 at 4:18 PM

    Why the cursing for no reason while you are fasting (supposedly). The writer actually appreciated my comments and corrected the article after the fact. We all do mistakes because we are human. But cursing and not accepting criticism is a form of ignorance that will only leave us behind!

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