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Ramadan Tales S2EP02- The Pharaohs’ 1934 World Cup campaign
The second episode of this season’s Ramadan Tales recalls Egypt’s appearance at the 1934 World Cup; hosted by Italy. The first of the Pharaoh’s two World Cup campaigns, one that only lasted 90 minutes!
Countries host sports tournaments to signify their arrival. This metaphoric gesture has most prominently played out in the Beijing Olympics of 2008. The FIFA World Cup has accorded these moments as well, most recently in 2010. It in fact began with the 1934 World Cup when Egypt first featured in the event.
A little history lesson for you. The 1930s were a golden age for fascism. No surprise then that the Italian leader, Benito Mussolini, used the World Cup as an opportunity to drive up nationalist sentiments. One Adolf Hitler would do the same, with the Olympics, in 1936. FIFA gave Italy rights to host the second World Cup after the country’s petulance in boycotting the first one for not hosting.
Egypt travelled to Naples by sea. In a 2002 BBC interview, Egyptian goalie, Mustafa Kamel Mansour said, “We went to Italy on a ship called the Helwan. It was a trip that took four days but we enjoyed the experience.” This was how all non-European teams made it to Italy. Never mind the fact that FIFA chose a knockout format, thus all these countries suffered the embarrassment of playing only one match.
Despite being a first World Cup appearance, for Egypt, it cannot be considered a surprise. Egypt was a pioneering African football side and had been involved in the Olympics. In those times the football at the Olympics was an important event, for the sport. Just six years earlier, in Amsterdam, they finished in fourth-place – with Al Ahly icon Mokhtar El-Tetsh scoring four goals at a ripe 20 years of age.
Egypt thrashed Palestine home and away to qualify for the 1934 World Cup. They won by a 7-1 scoreline in Cairo, in which El-Tetsh grabbed a hat-trick, before finishing the job with a 4-1 win in Tel Aviv. Mokhtar El-Tetsh was once again on the scoresheet. Turkey was meant to slug it out with these two countries for a World Cup spot, but they withdrew, so Egypt was to become the first African team to feature at a FIFA World Cup.
Unlike in 1930, FIFA favored a knockout format for this 16-team World Cup. The first round involved eight matches and Egypt were drawn to face, the seeded, Hungary side. The two would play at the Stadio Partenopeo that was, sadly, destroyed in the Second World War. In fact, ten years earlier, these two teams had faced off at the Paris Olympics in a match Egypt won 3-0.
Unfortunately, history did not repeat itself as Egypt were defeating by the Hungarians. Kamel Mansour recalled, though, that the result was unfair. “We were the better side, we deserved to win.” Hungary had taken a two goal lead courtesy of Pál Teleki and Géza Toldi, one time coach of Zamalek. Egypt managed to draw level, all in the first half. Abdul Fawzi became the first African to score at the World Cup with his goal on the half hour mark, adding onto the record with a 39th minute equalizer to leave it 2-2.
The 1934 World Cup has a sour legacy of poor officiating. Goalkeeper Kamel Mansour remembered one of those incidents in this match. In his recollection, Fawzi was denied a historic hat-trick by the referee. In 2002 he told BBC this: “When the game was 2-2, my colleague Fawzi took the ball from the centre and dribbled past all the Hungarian players to score a third goal. But the referee cancelled the goal as offside!”
Jenö Vincze scored a third for Hungary in the 53rd minute, before the Europeans put the game beyond Egypt when Géza Toldi scored goal number four on the hour mark. Mansour, who passed away in 2002, was still bitter about this goal.
“The Hungarians fourth goal came from a serious foul against me. I caught the ball from a cross but their striker hit me with his knees in my chest. His elbow broke my nose and he even pushed me behind the goal-line. Instead of penalizing the Hungarians for a foul, the Italian referee whistled for a goal amid the howling of 15,000 angry fans.”
Hungary went on to exit the 1934 World Cup at the quarter finals stage. Egypt, on the other hand, would feature in the 1936 Olympics but would wait until 1990 to grace the World Cup again.
Despite crossing the Mediterranean for a brief World Cup campaign, the legacy of this team still lives. They stand out as the sole representative of Africans and Arabs in the story of the roots of the World Cup.