In one of the most surprising upsets in the history of the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, African champions Egypt beat 2006 World Champions Italy 1-0 Thursday in Johannesburg.
Not so much a surprise if you take into consideration Egypt's spectacular performance against Brazil in the first round, one that pushed them to the limits until extra time at which point the score had remained at 3-3. Brazil's winning goal came from a rightful penalty that nonetheless left commentators calling the Samba win "a steal," especially given that Egypt was the overall better team on the night.
Against Italy, Egypt's accolade extends beyond the winning result; the Pharoah's performance outmatched the Azzurri in every aspect of the match: passing, defending, marking, and ball retention.
Abou Treika, who shined in midfield just as he had done against Brazil, provided the assist through a well-taken corner kick that was headed home by Egyptian national team rookie, Homos. (Abou Treika had had two assists, both to Zidan, in the match against Brazil.)
Egypt's goal came early in the game, and despite many close opportunities for both sides and a whopping five minutes added on as extra time, Egypt managed to retain its composure and even outplay the Italians, ensuring that the match ended in a historic result for African football.
But it was not just Egyptians and Africans who were celebrating. ESPN commentator and former US national team captain, Alexi Lalas, remarked: "even though I do not have any stake in Egypt and don't know any Egyptians, I feel proud."
"Egypt is my new favorite team," he said earlier in the broadcast.
Egypt's brand of play at the tournament has been widely lauded as being true to the Joga Bonito, or the beautiful game, a phrase widely used by football fans and analysts to describe passionate, technically sound, and fair play, with a bit of flair.
Egypt started the match with a sense of entitlement after throwing away what seemed to be a definite draw against Brazil. The cohesion exhibited by the players as they stood in a close circle before the starting whistle, reciting the fatiha prayer, continued throughout the match. Indeed, their's was a classic textbook display of the concept of teamwork.
Egypt's goalkeeper, Essam El-Hadary, who was terrific all day, is likely to nab the Budweiser Man of the Match award; Abou Treika would be a close second. Homos, the only goal scorer of the match, is also in contention.
As for the game's other likely stars, Egypt's Mohamed Zidan limped off after pulling his calf, leaving Egypt with its only disappointment of the game. Italy's Rossi and Pirlo who had delivered against the US were largely neutralized by a well distributed and confident Egyptian team.
Ironically, the US, who are Egypt's third and last match of the group, have been kept alive despite a 3-0 thrashing suffered at the hands of Brazil, thanks only to Egypt's win against Italy.
Given its team's current performance level, Egypt will be favorites going into the game on Sunday and have more than an even chance of edging Italy out to join Brazil and Spain in the Semi-finals.
Either way, Egypt's win against Italy and its superior performance on the pitch throughout the game will surely unleash joyous celebrations all over Egypt and much of Africa. Moreover, Egypt, who has enjoyed dominance on the African continent since forever, should have finally put itself on the global map despite years of World Cup elusiveness. It can now be said that the African champions can mix it with the world's best.
Congratulations to Egypt, and to fans of the beautiful game everywhere.
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