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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 October 2018

Egypt fans keep the faith in Moscow despite losing start to World Cup campaign

Egyptians at the Fan Fest in the Russian capital enjoyed, despite the result against Uruguay, their first World Cup game in 28 years and believes they can still qualify for the last 16

Egyptian fans cheer on their national team at the Moscow Fan Fest on Friday as they went up against Uruguay. Zurab Kurtsikidze / EPA
Egyptian fans cheer on their national team at the Moscow Fan Fest on Friday as they went up against Uruguay. Zurab Kurtsikidze / EPA

Ahmed Morsi, an Egyptian from Cairo but a project manager with Etisalat in Dubai, led the celebrations, serenading Mohammed Salah on his birthday. He bounced and belted it out, first in English and then in Arabic.

Morsi was joined by friends from back home and some new ones, too, for all those without a match ticket for Yetkaterinburg had apparently decamped to Moscow’s Fan Fest instead.

There, on Friday, the big screens beamed down Egypt’s Group A opener against Uruguay, taking place some 1,400 kilometres away. It might as well have been right here.

The sun beamed bright as well, making those who donned pharaoh headpieces – of which there were many – question their decision, if only temporarily. After all, it was worth it: Egypt had not been at a World Cup since 1990. This was an opportunity to be embraced, to be celebrated.

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“After 28 years now in the World Cup, it’s awesome,” Morsi smiled at half-time, with the score goalless. “We are so, so, so happy. We are proud of our team, who are doing very well against one the strongest teams in the world.”

Others beat drums, waved flags, hollered and honked. They screamed when Luis Suarez went clean-through in the second half, then cheered when Mohammed El Shennawy smothered the ball at his feet.

For Karlos Gergis, this had not quite been almost three decades in the making – he was not even born then - but the excitement has escalated the past three years. Originally from Suez, he has been studying aeronautical engineering at Moscow Aviation Institute since 2015, alongside childhood friend Amr.

A post shared by Mohamed Salah (@mosalah) on

“It’s one of the great things to have a World Cup here in Russia, it’s a great chance as we are living here," he said. "It’s like half-half feeling. Sometimes you want to support Russia because you lived with them for three years, and at the same time you're Egyptian and you want to support Egypt.”

Being among his compatriots, with the match coinciding with Eid, made the distance between temporary and permanent home a little easier to manage.

“It means I feel the comfort, because we miss our home unfortunately because we didn’t go home once in three years,” Gergis said. “So we feel the Egyptians are here, we are gathering here and living the moment with each other.”

Gaser and Yara Elzahaby, brother and sister from Cairo, will gather in Saint Petersburg next week with Egyptian friends from university and work. There, they will attend Egypt’s encounter with hosts Russia.

On Friday, in Moscow, they had only each other, stuck in their own bubble, eyes transfixed on the TV screen, pulses racing.

Egypt fans in high spirits at the Fan Fest in Moscow. Zurab Kurtsikidze / EPA
Egypt fans in high spirits at the Fan Fest in Moscow. Zurab Kurtsikidze / EPA

Draped in an Egypt flag, Yara jumped and shouted throughout. When Edison Cavani struck a post late on, she cheered as if it was an Egyptian goal. Her brother had sat on the ground, barely able to watch.

“It’s been 28 years, it’s amazing,” Yara said. “The last time we qualified I wasn’t even born, so this is epic. It’s great having lots of people from around the world - it’s a special feeling you don’t get except in a world cup. I hope we qualify to the next round, fingers crossed.

“It’s a great day, it’s Eid, it’s the first game in the World Cup… it’s Salah’s birthday. So it’s perfect.”

The result? Not so much. Two minutes from time, Jose Gimenez rose highest at a corner and headed past El Shennawy. Uruguay had won it at the death.

For the first time, Fan Fest fell silent, save for the small pocket of Uguguayans. Morsi covered his face in his Egypt flag. Others called out why Salah, reportedly recovering from a shoulder injury, remained on the bench.

Still, he will return for Russia. Still, their fans claimed, they will make it beyond Group A.

A post shared by Mohamed Salah (@mosalah) on

“It is a very historic moment for us, a very, very emotional moment,” said Amr Eltouni, who works in engineering in Cairo.

“We are very happy to be in this world event. We think that this is Egypt. This is our destiny to be with the top teams in the world. Our performance today proved this.”

His friend, Amr Fawzy, agreed.

“For us, for me, for our generation, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said, voice hoarse. “To experience it here is Russia especially is very special for us. We’ve had a lot of generations with better players but we never qualified to the World Cup.

“But with this generation we made it, and all the credit goes to the players and the coach [Hector] Cuper and the fans all over Egypt. It’s very historic and, Inshallah, we qualify for the next round.”