Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Morocco were all bounced out of the World Cup Wednesday, leaving Tunisia as the only Arab country left with the chance of advancing past the first round of the quadrennial soccer tournament.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt were eliminated with Uruguay’s win Wednesday over the Saudi squad, which also guaranteed Russia’s advancement to the second round. The four team’s are in the same group, with the best two squads advancing to the next round.
The Saudis 1-0 loss to Uruguay came after their 5-0 drubbing by Russia in the World Cup opener.
After losing to Uruguay 1-0 last week, Egypt was defeated 3-1 by Russia Tuesday despite the return of star striker Mohamed Salah. It would have needed a Saudi win over Uruguay to remain in contention.
Morocco, meanwhile, was defeated 1-0 by Portugal on Wednesday, following its earlier loss to Iran on an own goal.
It has one game remaining versus Spain, though even a victory against the Iberian soccer power would fail to advance Morocco to the next stage.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt will face each other for their last match of the World Cup. Though the game will have no impact on the tournament itself, a win for either team would give the victor bragging rights in the Arab world.
While their elimination from the tournament was a major blow for all three squads, it particularly resonated with Egypt in light of high hopes among fans following Salah’s return from injury.
Salah returned to action for the first time in three weeks for his side’s do-or-die clash with hosts Russia in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday but was a pale imitation of the player who dazzled for Liverpool last season, scoring 44 goals.
He did get on the scoresheet late on from the penalty spot in Saint Petersburg but it was too little, too late, with Russia already 3-0 up and steaming towards the last 16.
Salah carried his country to their first World Cup since 1990, scoring five of his side’s eight goals in the third qualifying round.
But Egyptian excitement that he was appearing on the biggest stage in club soccer last month turned to fear when he trudged off the field in tears after being hauled to the ground by Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos.
“This is very bad for Mo, very bad for us, very bad for Egypt,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, minutes after seeing his side lose 3-1 to Real.
The Spanish captain quickly became a hate figure for furious Egyptian fans on social media, but there was no quick remedy for the damage Ramos inflicted.
Despite Egypt’s defeat, Salah celebrated his 26th birthday on the day of the Uruguay defeat, meaning time is still on his side for him to return to the World Cup stage.
But injury at the most inopportune time has soured the season that made him a worldwide phenomenon.