The tournament isn’t over yet, but we’re happy to call it: After their miserable defeat to Saudi Arabia on Monday, the winners of the much coveted Worst World Cup Campaign award for 2018 are Egypt. And it’s not even going to be close.
First of all, the side lost all their games in the group stage and are going home. This is exacerbated a little by the group they were in, one of the weakest at the competition. OK, Uruguay are usually decent, and Russia have surprised everybody. But there’s no excuse for not beating Saudi Arabia, who cannot defend. Like, at all. To the point that it’s not even clear if they really want to.
Now, Egypt dropping out at the group stage isn’t as bad as, say, Spain last time, or France in 2002. They weren’t defending champions; they didn’t have quite such a high bar to crash into. But true disasters are made both on and off the pitch. And in this regard, Egypt set themselves apart.
This summer, Egypt have spent much of their time between games at the side of Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic, a man who collects accusations of human rights abuses at a dizzying and horrifying rate.
Kadyrov is probably most notorious outside Chechnya for his comments regarding gay men, who apparently don’t exist in Chechnya, but should all be deported to Canada anyway, except they can’t be because he’s allegedly having them rounded up and tortured in concentration camps. Allegedly. But beyond that, there’s ... well, pretty much anything awful you can imagine, and plenty that you probably don’t want to. His Wikipedia page includes the sub-heading “Mixed martial arts tournament involving child fighters”. Do not pop along for a quick meal and some honorary citizenship.
It’s tough to blame the players here, since footballers on international duty generally go wherever their FAs tell them to. And presumably, in the moment, Kadyrov is a very hard man to turn down. It’s interesting to note, however, that FIFA’s crusade against the politicization of football won’t prevent Mohamed Salah posing next to a man who allegedly maintains a 300-name murder list.
Anyway, apparently Salah’s now decided that he doesn’t particularly enjoy being a bauble for the Egyptian FA and their dubious friends, and is considering retirement from international duty. Hard to blame him, if true, though the FA have denied the reports. But even the rumour is enough to cap the horror show. They’ve lost all their games, they’ve laundered the image of one of humanity’s most notable bastards, and they may have driven their best player out of the side. All in a couple of weeks.
As a coda, one of the World Cup’s saddest and strangest records has been preserved. Egypt are one of the most powerful nations in the African confederation. They’ve won the Cup of Nations seven times, more than any other country. But they simply cannot do World Cups. This is — was — only their third, following on from 1934 and 1990. And they’ve never won a single game.