ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT, It has been a sleepless night in Egypt after the country's national football team secured its berth in the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia with a 2-1 win over the Republic of Congo at a military stadium in the Egyptian coastal city of Alexandria Sunday.

Before midnight outside Borg El Arab Stadium, thousands could be seen cheering, waving flags and sounding their car horns in celebration of the victory which realizes the World Cup dream for Egyptians after 27 years of waiting.

Sunday's win puts Egypt top of African qualifying Group E which includes Uganda, Ghana and Congo and gets Egypt into the top world soccer competition for the third time after it participated in 1990 and 1934.

"I am so happy today. The last time we joined the World Cup I was only two years old. I expected today's victory and we will finally see our national team playing in the top soccer tournament," Abdullah al-Misairy, a mechanical engineer told Xinhua.

Misairy said the general performance of the players was still "humble" but he still vowed to go to Russia to support the Egyptian team in the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Accompanied by her husband, Yasmine Adel, a 24-year-old woman from Alexandria, said it was the first time for her to watch a football match at the stadium. "Although I am not a zealous soccer fan, victory tastes beautiful, especially since I had not yet been born when Egypt last joined the World Cup," she said with a smile.

World-renowned striker Mohamed Salah, currently playing for English Premier League side Liverpool, was the man of the match as he scored two of Egypt's goals in the 63rd and 93rd minutes. But things got tense for each side after Congolese player Arnold Buoka Moutou grabbed an equalizer in the 87th minute.

In Cairo, the main streets and squares were crowded with overjoyed soccer fans who wanted to share in the public celebrations while vehicles running back and forth were mostly covered by flags of the North African country.

"Salah is a national hero," said Bousy Barakat, a secretary in her 20s, who had been watching the game with her friends at one of Cairo's coffee shops. "I was so scared after Congo scored an equalizer, but after we won I was really overwhelmed with joy," she told Xinhua.

The celebrations were not restricted to Cairo and Alexandria. They overwhelmed the whole country, including the Upper Egypt provinces of Qena and Luxor, especially at coffee shops where most Egyptian soccer fans like to watch football matches.

A 32-year-old chemistry teacher at a high school in Qena, whose name happened to be also Mohamed Salah, described the match as "fantastic", saying that it brought happiness not only to Egypt but to the whole Arab world.

"We won! Thanks to the prayers from millions of Egyptian people!" he said at a crowded coffee shop in Qena city.

Haggag Abdel-Hady, a 22-year-old university graduate from Luxor, said that the victory made everyone forget any mistakes made or chances wasted by the players during the difficult match.

"Our main purpose is not just to join the World Cup finals but also to have a chance to compete well in the world competition, so we hope our team will perform better in the future," the young man told Xinhua at a coffee shop in downtown Luxor.

Some Egyptians said that the people were in dire need of such a glorious victory, given that the country is going through a strict economic reform program that includes subsidy cuts and tax increases.

"The joy of victory has just removed the Egyptians' worries and sufferings from price hikes and given them hope for a future happiness through our national football team," said Heba Abdel-Rady, 25, who is also from Luxor.

In Minufiya province northern the capital Cairo, cafes, sports clubs and youth centers installed large monitors to screen the match in the open to accommodate the largest number of viewers to watch the decisive match.

"We had a very narrow win after we went through hard times mixed with fear, worry and finally tears of joy," Samir Zanaty, a math teacher, told Xinhua following the match.

After the match, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi approved a reward of 1.5 million Egyptian pounds (about 85,000 US dollars) for each player of the national team for the achievement, saying they exemplified persistence, determination and hard work.

The Cabinet and the Parliament also congratulated Sisi, the Egyptian people and the national team for the victory.


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