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Blog - Football Africa

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Africa's first: Egypt at the 1934 World Cup

A month from Monday, five African teams will line-up to represent the continent in Brazil. That may sound like plenty, but CAF is the confederation with the most number of FIFA members so in some circles, the World Cup allocations are considered to be woefully unbalanced. At least it is a lot better than it was 80 years ago.

That was in 1934 when Africa had its first outfit at the global showpiece and the tournament had only just started to resemble the one we know today. It had a qualification stage but was played entirely in a knockout format. The former opened the door for Africa to take part; the latter shut it just as quickly.

There was only one spot reserved for a team from Africa and Asia, although the geographical definitions were loosely applied. Turkey, who withdrew before they could play any part in the opening exchanges, and Palestine, a British mandate with a majority of British players, were defined as the Asian sides and Egypt, the African. Turkey's unavailability meant there was only need for a single round of matches between Egypt and Palestine to decide who would go to Italy.

After the first leg, there was no doubt it would be Egypt. In Cairo, they won 7-1 which left them only needing to underline their dominance in Tel-Aviv. A slightly less emphatic win, 4-1, saw Egypt qualify with an aggregate result of 11-2.

They set sail for Italy the following month. Mustafa Kamel Mansour was Egypt's goalkeeper at the tournament and remembered the team making the journey over four days on a ship called the Helwan. He recalled it to the BBC as an enjoyable experience, but that was where Egypt's fun stopped.

In Naples, they had a date with Hungary and it did not go well. Hungary were 2-0 up after 31 minutes before Egypt staged their comeback. Abdulrahman Fawzi was the first African to net at a World Cup. He scored two goals in the space of four minutes to ensure Egypt were back in the game.

He should have become the first person from the continent to record a hat-trick at the World Cup, but his third goal -- which he scored after collecting the ball from the centre and threading through the defence -- was ruled offside. To this day, there is a skepticism about how the referee, Rinaldo Barlassina, could have made that decision.

Mansour has gone as far as spelling out what he described as bias on the part of the officials because he claimed Egypt suffered another injustice that day too. Hungary were 3-2 up after 53 minutes and 4-2 after an hour. That was when, according to Mansour in his BBC interview, the following happened: "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," he said.

Mansour was 87 years old when he retold that story; 68 years after it happened in 2002. He died two months after that, in July of that year, but lived to see Senegal reach quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup help in Japan and South Korea. Mansour did not manage to see the World Cup come to Africa in 2010, or Ghana advance to the last eight. Both those events would have rubber-stamped his belief in the continent's capabilities.

"We have improved so much, so I would not be surprised the moment an African team wins the trophy," he said. He was impressed with the progress of both Cameroon and Nigeria, who will both compete in Brazil and would no doubt want to prove Mansour right.