Egypt and Saudi Arabia closed out their 2018 World Cup performance with a clash between each other. Both teams were already eliminated coming into the game, which was totally expected with Saudi Arabia but not a sure thing with Egypt. Egypt had been one of the candidates to make it out of their group stage under Mohamed Salah. Salah had taken Liverpool to the UEFA Champions League Final and was talked as a candidate to win the Golden Ball over Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but a shoulder injury in the Final had him listed as questionable on the lead up to the World Cup. Salah managed to play, but only until the second group game against Russia, a game where they were clearly beaten and thus eliminated from the World Cup. Saudi Arabia was expected to be one of the worst, if not the worst, team of the cup and their 5-0 trashing in the opening game of the World Cup wasn’t surprising. Still, they improved against Uruguay and only lost 1-0. Meanwhile, against Egypt, they were expected to lose but to shocked most as they were the deserved winners 2-1.
Not many people remember (even I who was actually at that game had forgotten about it until midway through the game) but this was a rematch of a very infamous match in 1999 in the Estadio Azteca. In 1999, Mexico hosted the Confederations Cup, the first to be played outside Saudi Arabia. Both teams were in Group A, along with Mexico and Bolivia, and just like today, they were playing their final group stage game. Also like today, Egypt was considered the favorite after getting a 2-2 draw with Mexico, in a game that was the low point for the home team. They had also gotten a draw with Bolivia and thus were above Saudi Arabia, who only had a point after getting crushed by Mexico and getting a draw with Bolivia.
The game would be end up being magical one for Saudi Arabian forward Marzouk Al Otaibi. Saudi Arabia had been really poor against Mexico but had improved against Bolivia. On paper, they were nowhere near Egypt’s level, who came back from a 2-0 down to level Mexico. But they took an early lead through Al Otaibi before Egypt started to get physical and Paraguayan Ubaldo Aquino was having none of it. Egypt got two red cards in the half and went trailing 2-0 at halftime. Saudi Arabia then took the opportunity of being a two men up and would score three more goals. Marzouk Al Otaibi would have a historic day, scoring 4 goals, which curiously made him the second player of the tournament to do so after Cuauhtemoc Blanco had scored 4 goals against Saudi Arabia in the opener.
Saudi Arabia, who had been crushed in their opener 5-1 by Mexico, actually went through to the next round with a positive goal differential. Egypt meanwhile got another red card and finished the game with 8 players. They were absolutely not having it and fought with the ref and with the Saudi Arabian players after the final whistle. It was a total shock of a result.
19 years later, something similar happened. Once again, a South American ref (Colombia’s Wilmar Roldan) had a controversial performance against Egypt, this time by giving Saudi Arabia two penalty calls (one which was stopped, the other one tied the game at one). And once agai,n a Saudi Arabian team that was expected to lose, got a shock victory over Egypt in a FIFA tournament.
As a final note, perhaps most remarkable of all, Essam El Hadary was Egypt’s goalkeeper in both games, breaking the World Cup record for oldest player to play a World Cup game ever.