Senior Staff Writer
The Arab World made football history this year by having four of its countries qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
The latest Arab nations to get in on the act were Morocco and Tunisia after the former defeated the Ivory Coast and the latter tied with Libya on Nov. 11.
They were preceded by Egypt, who qualified after winning against Congo in October, and Saudi Arabia, who qualified in September after surprising the world and defeating Japan. These results have led to Arabs having their biggest World Cup representation in history.
Arab countries do not have the best reputation when it comes to football. While some of them can shine in regional or continental tournaments, they always seem to fail when it comes to a worldwide stage. A strong Arab representation can help change this image and make sure Arabs are noticed at the 2018 World Cup.
All of the qualified teams mentioned have not made an appearance on the international stage for quite a while. Tunisia and Saudi Arabia both last qualified in 2006 when they were drawn in the same group in Germany, Morocco’s last appearance came in 1998, and Egypt’s was in 1990.
“Tonight we are proud of the Moroccan shirt, proud that the Moroccan flag returns to the World Cup. This is the fifth qualification so Morocco is not a small [football] country,” said Morocco’s coach Herve Renard after his team secured qualification.
This year also saw some remarkable performances by several Arab teams in football in general. Other than those qualified to compete in Russia, many teams are making legendary achievements. Syria had a fantastic qualification campaign which gave the war-torn country many reasons to celebrate, despite Australia eventually putting an end to their qualification chances. Also, two of the top scorers of the World Cup qualification rounds are from the United Arab Emirates. One of them, Ahmed Khalil, scored a total of 16 goals, putting him on top of the charts.
Lebanon and Palestine also made significant improvements. Lebanon’s recent performances allowed them to qualify for the Asia Cup in 2019 for the first time since they hosted the tournament in 2000. As for Palestine, the team has had impressive results during the past month and is now ranked 82nd out of 211 football associations, the highest ranking in the team’s history.
As the Arab World deals with social and political problems on a daily basis, the people are having a chance to celebrate and rejoice with these countries putting their names on an international level not in war or problems, but in sports and good spirit.