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Eight times Arab football teams wowed the World Cup Open in fullscreen

Uri Levy

Eight times Arab football teams wowed the World Cup

The 2018 World Cup will begin in June [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 May, 2018

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The World Cup moments no Middle Eastern football fan will ever forget.
The forthcoming World Cup in Russia will be the most Arab World Cup ever with a record four teams representing Arab countries: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.

But before these teams make history in the 2018 edition of the football world's most prestigious competition, here are eight Arab teams that all Middle Eastern football fans will never forget.

EGYPT 1934

The second-ever World Cup took place in Italy, but most importantly for us, it hosted the first African and first Arab team to play in the tournament - Egypt. The Egyptians beat the British Mandate Palestine team in a qualifications double header with a couple of massive victories in Cairo and Tel Aviv. In Italy, the Pharaohs faced Hungary, back then one of the world's premier teams.

Despite two goals by Abdulrahman Fawzi, the Hungarians went ahead with four, terminating Egypt's journey in the tournament. Despite the early exit, it's impossible to forget the first ever Arab team to take to the world stage. 

KUWAIT 1982 

Kuwait is unique on this list. Not because of their results on the pitch, but for their role in one of the World Cup's most bizarre stories. 

Kuwait played the group stage with Czechoslovakia, France and England. After managing a 1-1 draw against Czechoslovakia, Kuwait faced France and found themselves 4-1 down.  

After hearing a whistle from the stands, the Kuwaiti players stopped playing, thinking the referee had halted the game, allowing France to score a fifth. Sheikh Fahad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, then-president of the Kuwaiti Football Association, went down to the field and pulled all his players from the pitch.

In order to calm the situation, Ukrainian referee Miroslav Stupar disallowed the goal, marking the first and only time a person in the stands changed the result of an official World Cup match. France eventually won 4-1, and the Kuwaitis were eliminated - but they left a legacy of one of the World Cup's biggest ever controversies.

French midfielder Michel Platini (C) vies for the ball with Kuwait's players during the 1982 World Cup football match between Kuwait and France [Getty]


At the same tournament, Algeria made its World Cup debut, introducing the world to the great talent of Rabah Madjer, and one of the best kits ever to be worn in a World Cup. The Algerians beat Germany 2-1 in their first match, becoming the first ever African team to beat a European squad in World Cup history. 

"We played a different style of football, a style that no-one had ever seen before - it is a mixture of German, Italian and Latin American football," Ali Fergani, Algeria's captain, said after the historical night. 

Les Fennecs were later a victim of the old group stage method, losing their next match 2-0 against Austria before going on to win 3-2 against Chile - while West Germany thrashed Chile 4-1 and grabbed a vital 1-0 victory over neighbours Austria.

In the final group game, Austria finished 1-0 winners over Chile, which meant that both West Germany and Austria qualified ahead of Algeria, due to their superior goal difference. Still, Algeria '82 was one of the greatest Arab teams to appear in the World Cup.

The Algerian team selected for the 1982 World Cup in Spain [Getty]

IRAQ 1986

The 1980s were a golden era for the Iraqi national team. The Lions of Mesopotamia grabbed gold medals in the 1982 Asian Games, the 1984 Arabian gulf Cup, the 1985 Arab Nations Cup, and their participation in Mexico 1986 was the cherry on the cake.

They had beaten almost every country in the Middle East on their way to the country's first and only World Cup tournament. But in the Cup itself, Iraq lost all three of its matches, scoring just one goal (by Ahmed Radhi), and came home to a very different reality - the country was embroiled in the middle of its war with Iran, and change was afoot both within the regime and the game's domestic administration. 

Saddam Hussein's son, Uday, took charge, and Iraqi football never recovered. 

The Iraqi national football team which attended the World Cup finals in Mexico in June 1986 [Getty]


Morocco arrived in Mexico with few giving them any chance of qualifying into the knockout stages, placed in the mighty group F with England, Poland and Portugal.

Holding the English and Polish teams to two 0-0 draws was just the beginning. Then the came the outburst. Morocco hammered Portugal 3-1, with goals from the legendary Krimau (Abdelkrim Merry) and Abderrazak Khairi.

The Atlas Lions stunned the world with that victory, sending them into the next stage as the group winners. In the Round of 16, Morocco produced an intense battle against West Germany, only to lose 0-1, due to an 88th minute goal from no other than Lothar Matthäus.

The disappointment was huge, but given the expectations before the tournament, the Moroccan team brought joy to their people, and also made history. Morocco was the first North African team to successfully leave the World Cup group stage, as well as the first Arab team to do so. An historical achievement by any accounts.


The Saudis made their debut appearance in the World Cup in the United States in 1994, and boy, it was an impressive debut. A respectable 2-1 loss to Holland in the first match, followed by a 2-1 victory over Morocco in New York and a prestigious triumph against Belgium sent the Saudis to the next stage - the first West Asian Arabic national team to do so.

In the knockout round they lost to Sweden, who continued their successful run all the way to the semi-final, but the loss did not dent the impressive achievements of the Green Falcons in the USA World Cup.

This team brought the world names like Saeed Al-Owairan, Majed Abdallah, Abdeljawad and Sami Al-Jaber - true Middle Eastern football legends. 

Saudi Arabia celebrate after scoring their second goal against Morocco in the 1994 World Cup game [Getty]


The Moroccans who drew Brazil, Norway and Scotland, did not go through - but changed the perception of many about North African and Arab teams.

After a 2-2 draw with Norway, and an expected loss to Brazil, a magical 3-0 victory over Scotland could have been their ticket to the knockouts - but somehow, the Brazilians managed to lose 1-2 to Norway, and Morocco were on the first plane back to Casablanca. 

But it was the team of the legendary Mustafa Hadji and his exciting squadmates Youssef Chippo and Nouredine Naybet  that made European football appreciate the Berber and Arab talent.  


Algeria's Brazilian summer was by far one of the most exciting runs of any Arab, North African or Middle Eastern team in World Cup history.

The Algerians listed a rarely talented squad for the competition, including only two players born in Algeria - the rest were all born in France. 

Les Fennecs started with a respectable loss to Belgium after leading for much of the match; continuing with a celebration over the South Koreans and concluding the group stage with a 1-1 draw with Russia, sending them to the Round of 16 - to face no other than Germany. After 90 goalless minutes, Schurrle finally gave the Germans the advantage.

Suddenly Djabou notched one back for the Algerians, the better team throughout extra time, only to see Mesut Ozil scored Germany's winner in the 120th minute, sending Algeria home.

Who knows what would have happened if Algeria took the match to penalties, kicking Germany out?

The football world could have looked completely different today...

Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here

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