With Egypt’s losses to Uruguay, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, the team I spent years excited to support was eliminated from the World Cup after 270 minutes. It had been 28 years since Egypt competed on the world’s biggest stage– only to concede a late goal against Uruguay, lose to the host nation, and somehow manage to lose to a Saudi Arabian team that wouldn’t look out of place on a high school soccer field. All in all, truly the most Egyptian of outcomes.
The Uruguay game proved that this team needed Mo Salah on the field to pose any kind of offensive threat (the superstar sat that one out still recovering from a dislocated shoulder). For much of the game Egypt was defensively sound, but his absence undoubtedly made the team look sluggish and frankly, scared. Scared soccer will always lead to mistakes, and the Uruguayan goal in the waning minutes of regulation is evidence of that. But overall, not a terrible showing for Egypt. The next game against Russia was the real backbreaker. Playing a Russian team with a clear home-field-advantage would have been hard enough, but playing them fresh off of their 5-0 demolition of Saudi Arabia was a recipe for disaster. The Russians were confident, they were clicking, and they were comfortable playing in front of a crowd that desperately wanted more success. In a word, they were everything that Egypt wasn’t.
I watched the game against Russia with total confidence that we would find a way to lose, and the team did not disappoint in disappointing. The first goal was an own goal that eliminated any sense of momentum that Mo Salah provided in his first World Cup match. The Russian team would go on to score two more times before Salah managed to score a mostly-symbolic penalty when the game was already determined. This gives Salah the distinct honor of being the first Egyptian to score a World Cup goal in 28 long years.
With those first two losses, the last game against Saudi Arabia on Monday lost any semblance of importance, as both teams would be headed home afterwards, regardless of the outcome. Egypt’s short stint in this summer’s tournament failed to reveal much about the team and doesn’t provide much to hope for future international tournaments. There has been no noticeable bright spot for the team, as each of their games left much to be desired. While I was heartbroken with the result, many other Egyptians, including my parents, have been thrilled to see Egypt flounder on the world’s biggest stage. To them this is an accurate reflection of the regime in power and the effect the Egyptian government has on everything it comes in contact with.
As I continue to dry my figurative tears and cope with the unsurprising result, I’ve started turning my attention to other teams worthy of my support. Teams with a better chance (read; any chance) of getting through the round of 16 and ultimately competing for the biggest prize. The candidates I’ve settled on are widely considered underdogs, because while it may be fun to watch your team win, victory is so much sweeter when it’s unexpected. With that in mind, here’s a list of countries you can support if you’re a fan of Egypt’s soccer team (or Morocco, Tunisia, Iran, etc.). Fair warning, these teams are perfect candidates to break your heart if you get overly invested. Of the 20 World Cups that have taken place, all have been won by one of eight teams (Germany, Spain, Italy, France, Brazil, Argentina, England, and Uruguay), and chances are this World Cup will be no different (though Germany and Italy are not in contention). At the end of the day, it’s unlikely that Switzerland will win its first World Cup, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to support them.
- Mexicooooo: This squad can hardly be considered an underdog in any fight. Mexico qualified for the World Cup without much surprise, but their opening match placed them against Germany, and it seems everyone took for granted that Mexico would take the L. However the Mexican team had other plans, outpacing and generally outplaying the defending champs on their way to a 1-0 victory. And a victory against South Korea got Mexico through to the next round. Several friends have expressed their disappointment in not having the American team to cheer for, my advice is to do the one thing guaranteed to piss off Donald Trump; go out and buy a Mexican flag (the larger the better), wave that flag proudly and support the only team on this continent that’s competing. Additionally, for all my compatriots disgusted with what the current administration is doing to families seeking asylum and refuge, check out this link for actionable ways to influence your local representatives or provide aid to those who need it most.
- Belgium: With multiple playmakers that can drop your jaw at any given moment, this could finally be the year that a team outside of the aforementioned eight wins the tournament, and Belgium could be just the team to do it. Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and the rest of the team have been a mixed bag so far, but their efforts have guaranteed them a spot in the final 16. Their squad may be strong, but they’re still historically an underdog, so they’ve got my blessing.
- Switzerland: This Swiss team has to be one of the most polarizing products in the country’s history. In the past week, members of the Swiss team came under fire for their goal celebrations against Serbia in a 2-1 victory on Friday. Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri, both risked being fined or suspended by FIFA after they celebrated their goals against Serbia with a double-headed eagle hand gesture, a reference to the Albanian flag. Given the contentious and violent history in the Balkan region between Serbia and Albania (where several of the Swiss players were born), this was a bold and controversial move. The gesture, commonly-referred to as a nationalist symbol, angered the Serbian fans as well as the head of the Serbian FA. Both of the Swiss players have Kosovan family ties, and they were fined by FIFA for the celebration, but I’m curious to see what becomes of this team. Clearly they’re not intimidated by geopolitics or the role sports can play in bringing people together, or driving them further apart.
- Iceland: This team first came onto alot of radars two years ago during the Euro 2016 tournament, where they made a surprising run to the quarterfinals before losing to France. Their legends are endless, from the coach who moonlights as a dentist to the goalie who is also a (surprisingly adept) filmmaker. There aren’t many big names associated with the Icelandic team, but they make up for it with a sense of national pride that’s uniquely comprehensive. This is the team’s first World Cup appearance, and if their first game against Argentina was any indication, they’ve got high expectations for themselves. If nothing else, the “thunder clap” that they perform after each game is reason enough to throw my support behind them.
- Nigeria: I won’t say that I supported Nigeria solely because their unparalleled jersey swagger, however I will go to my grave knowing that the Nigerian kit for this year’s World Cup is the iciest outfit any sporting event has ever sanctioned. Despite their late-game heartbreaking exit from the group stages, this team gave their fans a beautiful moment of hope and their determination on the field was unquestioned. They played hard and competed with the best in the world, and regardless of the opponent or the outcome, we can all rest easy knowing that the debate for most stylish team on the field was over the second the Nigerian jerseys were manufactured.
- Senegal: Historically African teams have underperformed so frequently that it no longer comes as a surprise to see lopsided results. However, the strongest African team was Senegal, and with Liverpool’s Sadio Mane on the attack, this squad was my fond hope to see the quarterfinals or more. In a group featuring Japan, Colombia and Poland, anything could happen; and it did. Japan had an identical record but Japan went through, because it had fewer yellow cards. I thought Senegal had the talent and heart to go on a run, but once again, I was let down, hard.