How a Winning Goal Reunited an Entire Country

I was never much of a soccer person. For someone from Egypt, that's practically a sin. It wasn’t that I disliked the sport, but rather, it never captivated me as it did for everyone else. I could watch a game, but most times my mind would be elsewhere. I had yet to have a moment of being on the edge of my seat in suspense for the next move in a game or cheering at the top of my lungs for a goal. However, that all changed on October 8th. It was the day of the pivotal Egypt vs. Congo soccer game, in which the winner earns a spot in the 2018 World Cupan event that even the most unenthusiastic viewers like myself couldn’t ignore. Family in Egypt, friends all across the U.S., and millions of others tuned in, interconnected by a single game.

After about an hour and a half of yelling, booing, and cheering, the game was nearing its close with only the added 5 minutes of injury time remaining on the clock. Egypt and Congo were tied, and victory laid in the outcome of a single penalty kick by player Mohamed Salah. The stakes were high. My family’s apprehension mirrored that of the supporters on our screens. Some buried their heads in their hands while others looked to the sky, uttering a silent prayer. It was the first time I had ever felt completely engrossed in a sporting event. Salah ran towards the ball, kicking it with a fierce impact that propelled it forward as it cut through the air. Scattered cheers intensified into a surging crescendo as the ball veered closer and closer, finally making the winning goal. After nearly 30 years of no wins, Egypt was finally on its way to the World Cup. My family and I jumped and cheered. Almost immediately, our phones began ringing with calls from family overseas sharing the great news. On the TV, the crowd roared and cheered. More than 60,000 fans in the stands—some of which were strangers at the start of the game—now shared an unbreakable bond as they embraced, cried, and cheered together for the success of their country. Even the commentator was in tears, completely overcome by emotion: “I know that my cries are the cries of millions and [my joy] is the joy of millions. I know that all of these tears are within you and they are bursting to be freed. Who are the tears bursting for? They are bursting for Egypt. Our country, Egypt. Our love, Egypt, Our life, Egypt.” 

While securing a spot in the World Cup was without a doubt the most crucial effect of scoring the goal, the impact of the win extended far beyond that. The past few years have been among the worst for Egypt. Life post-revolution left the country in ruins and its people disillusioned. Violence was rampant, and poverty rates were at an all-time high. Egypt was in need of a reason to rejoice. After the game, there was a renewed sense of unity and pride in its people. Millions spilled into the streets to celebrate regardless of their political beliefs, gender, or religion. Trumpets blared, people danced, and fireworks painted the skies. The same streets that had become a home for protests, shootings, and funeral processions were now a place of celebration and unbridled joy. For a night everyone was able to abandon the hardships of the past because they were, at least for a fleeting moment, the champions. The miracle workers. The victors. They were unstoppable. And from thousands of miles away in my living room in quiet Ohio, I felt that same unstoppable energy. My heart was overwhelmed with pride for my country, my heritage, my people, my home.

By Rawan Olma

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