By 90Min
February 08, 2018

In these days of ever-expanding tournaments and free-for-all qualification, it's fairly easy to forget that back in the day, the World Cup wasn't really the World Cup. It was more the Cup of Teams From Around the World Who Could Be Bothered and Afford to Travel - although admittedly, that's a lot harder to fit on a trophy. 

The 1934 tournament in Rome was the only edition in the history of the competition not to feature the holders, with Uruguay not coming to Europe on the grounds that, well, the European teams couldn't be bothered to come to Uruguay. Sod 'em. 

None of the Home Nations deigned to even try and qualify either - but the far more interesting story comes from one of the federations who did send a team. Egypt travelled to Rome as Africa's sole representative in the 16-team straight knockout bracket, blazing a trail which was quickly followed by---no? No. No other African team qualified for the World Cup until Morocco made it to the finals in 1970; a full 36 years later. 

The qualification process wasn't the drawn out two-year affair that teams go through now, winning a two-legged tie against a 'Mandatory Palestine' team comprised largely of British players, which FIFA have since described as the forerunner of the Israel national team rather than the modern Palestinian side. 

Mahmoud Mokhtar - El Tetsh to his legions of fans - came into the ties as Egypt's start man, with an Olympic hat-trick to his name against Turkey (who pulled out of the three-way playoff with Egypt and Mandatory Palestine, possibly to avoid a repeat) in 1928. He duly hammered home a hat-trick in a 7-1 win in front of (officially) 13,000 people in Cairo before helping his team finish the job off with two more goals in a 4-1 victory in the second leg in Tel-Aviv. 

The 11-2 aggregate win ensured that despite the Home Nations' refusal to enter the tournament, there would be home British representation at the finals in Rome in the shape of the Pharaohs' Scottish manager James McRea. 

McRea had a successful playing career after the First World War, playing over 180 Football League matches including West Ham's first in League football - a 1-1 draw at home to Lincoln - but it's his off-field legacy which made him such an influential figure in Egyptian football.

Two of the players who played in that 7-1 thrashing of Mandatory Palestine ended up in Scottish football for a period thanks to McRea's influence, right-sided forward Mohamed Latif playing a single time for Rangers and goalkeeper Mostafa Kamal Mansour having success at Queen's Park. 

Mansour, for his part, was a popular figure in Glasgow, leading a Scout troop in the city in between his 41 Scottish League appearances and eight cup games, but returned to Egypt when the Second World War broke out in 1939. He didn't return to Scottish football, but kept his hand in at an organisational level for some time - becoming an early secretary of CAF in 1958. 

He spoke many years later of he and his teammates' time at the tournament in Italy, saying of the travel: "We went to Italy on a ship called the Helwan. It was a trip that took four days but we enjoyed the experience."

Sadly for he and his teammates, that trip lasted longer than their participation in the tournament. A tricky first round draw saw them up against Hungary - formidable without yet approaching the levels of their Golden Team of the '50s - and 90 minutes later, Africa's participation in the 1934 World Cup was at an end. 

Hungary ran out 4-2 winners in a controversial match in Naples, Pal Teleki and Geza Toldi putting the European side into an early lead before a quickfire brace from pulled Egypt level before half-time. 

Then Rinaldo Barlassina happened. 

At 2-2, Fawzi slalomed through the Hungarian defence from around the halfway line, beating goalkeeper Antal Szabó to become the first African player in history to score a World Cup hat-trick. Except he didn't, because - as goalkeeper Mansour explained years later, the goal was ruled out by Italian referee Barlassina for an alleged offside. 

If Mansour was irritated by the disallowing of his teammate's goal, he was furious on the hour mark when 25-year-old Ferencvárosi striker Toldi scored his second of the match to make it 4-2. 

"The Hungarians' fourth goal came from a serious foul against me," he fumed, 68 years after the fact. "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."

Even the local newspapers criticised Barlassina's performance after the game, claiming that he had Hungary easy passage to the next round - where they were beaten 2-1 by Austria in Bologna. 

The echoes of that late afternoon in Naples still appear in football record books today. Since Fawzi was denied his third goal, not a single African footballer has scored a hat-trick at a World Cup. Switzerland's Xherdan Shaqiri notched the tournament's 50th in Brazil back in 2014, with his Premier League rival Mohamed Salah arguably the most likely to break his continent's duck in Russia. 

While the Hungarians came back to football's top table just four years later and made the final, things were not so easy for Egypt. The Pharaohs didn't make it to another World Cup for a full 56 years, appearing when the tournament returned to Italy in 1990 only to slump to the bottom of a group containing England, the Netherlands and the Republic of Ireland. They scored just one goal in the process, Magdi Abdelghani finishing from the penalty spot in a futile 1-1 draw with Leo Beenhakker's Dutch side. 

Abdelghani's goal from the spot remains the last scored by an Egyptian at any World Cup, with six consecutive failures to qualify ended by Salah's dramatic 95th minute penalty against Congo last October. 

Until this summer though - and possibly even beyond it - the 1934 side remain the gold standard for Egyptian teams at the World Cup. 30 years after he passed away at the age of 79 in Cairo, Fawzi remains the nation's leading scorer in World Cup matches. If he were alive, it's hard to imagine he would begrudge being overtaken 84 years after his dramatic brace in Naples. 

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