EGYPT

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Mo Salah, Mo Salah and Mo Salah.

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Would you swap those famous old triangular buildings you have for a World Cup?


Hopes are high. Mo Salah is a goal-scoring machine and he is back having missed the first match through injury.

Without Salah, the Pharaohs lost narrowly. Against Russia, against home advantage, all eyes are looking to Egypt's number 10 for a miracle. The strategy seems the same as for the All Blacks when Jonah Lomu ruled - pass the ball to Mo.

Egypt is ranked 45th in the world. "Pray for Egypt!" a smallish man with smiling eyes implores. He is Father Bishoy Merkhaiel from Beachhaven's St Mark Coptic Orthodox Church.

The bookies have Russia at a miserly $1.10. But the law is also on the side of Egypt here in the Sunnynook Community Centre where 80 Egyptian Aucklanders have gathered in the pre-dawn.

Peter Hamdy watches from the back in his police uniform. He must leave before the end to get to the station for his 8am shift, hence he is dressed for action.

"I couldn't watch the last game because it clashed with my shift," says Hamdy, who has been in the police force for two years and in New Zealand for seven.

"I'm an Egypt fan. Anything they play in, I'll watch. Everyone in Egypt is desperate for Mo Salah … A lot of pressure there."

Fortunately, Salah, who scored 44 goals for Liverpool last season, eats pressure for breakfast. He reportedly said this on the eve of the tournament: "These are my people. They're not weight on top of me. They are behind me. Driving me to create."

The buzz in the hall is warm and welcoming. There are children in school uniforms. A pre-schooler tows a Spider Man backpack. "You better have one of these special biscuits too," says a woman by a table laid out with drinks and nibbles. "We only bake them once a year to celebrate the end of Ramadan."

In the front row, Sherif Hassaan, beats a rhythm on drums and the room booms in time, "Misr!" - Arabic for Egypt!

Hassaan came to New Zealand in 2003, leaving a profitable 22-year career in aviation to do so. He'd been told his children could get a good education here and he says it is proving to be true. His daughter is a haematologist and a son is doing well studying medicine and science.

The early ebb and flow favours Russia, who in the opening 20 minutes have five shots at goal to Egypt's two. But things soon even up. Hassaan says he is waiting for some Mo magic and as if on cue Salah turns a slim chance into a near miss, the ball sliding wide of the goal.

"Come on Mo!" someone shouts. A close up of the star draws whistles.

There are 6000 Egyptians in New Zealand, most of them in Auckland, says Dr Ghada Dawood, who chairs the Egyptian Council of New Zealand and who organised the gathering. She is thrilled the media is watching with them. "It's a very very big deal because we always feel we are a minority [but] it is a very strong community.

Halftime 0-0, but soon a big hole opens up and swallows Egypt. Suddenly it is 0-3 and the mood has raced past subdued and on towards despair.

But wait. Salah is felled in the box. Spot kick. He kisses the ball, places it on the spot and does his thing. GOAL. The hall erupts.

"Oh my blood pressure," says Monica Habib. "I just want them to score one more." Habib's parents brought the family here eight years ago.

"They lived here in the '80s. They love New Zealand. They say it is heaven on earth. Safe. Beautiful. We are very lucky."

Then, almost to herself, she says: "C'mon, just one more."

It's not to be.

Omar Nosseir, 17, a footballer for his school, is gutted, naturally. He perched on the edge of his seat and lived every moment. Words are insufficient. He simply says: "It was unfortunate."