Coach Bob Bradley’s surprising Egyptian team moved a giant step closer to qualifying for the 2014 World Cup next summer in Brazil, riding Mohamed Salah’s hat trick to a 4-2 victory over Zimbabwe on Sunday in Harare.
With the victory, its first-ever in Harare, Egypt needs only one win or a loss by Guinea in its final two games to win its group and move on to the final round of African qualifying in the fall. Egypt, which has not qualified for a World Cup since 1990, plays Guinea, a 6-1 winner over Mozambique on Sunday, in the final match of group play.
Egypt (4-0-0) and the Netherlands (6-0-0) are the only countries who remain perfect in World Cup qualifying.
Bradley, dismissed as coach of the U.S. national team two years ago, has become a cult hero in Egypt after rebuilding the country’s beloved soccer program during a time of unyielding civil and political strife.
And Salah has been one of the players who have benefited most from Bradley’s presence. The 20-year-old forward, whom Bradley called “the future of Egyptian football,” helped Basel to the semifinals of the Europa League this season and has scored 15 goals in his last 21 games for Egypt.
Salah got the scoring started Sunday, setting up Mohamed Aboutrika just outside the six-year box in the fifth minute. After Knowledge Musona pulled Zimbabwe even in the 21st minute, Salah gave Egypt a lead it would not relinquish with a strike just before halftime.
He added two more goals in the second half, sandwiched around a score from Zimbabwe’s Lincoln Zvasiya.
Egypt can wrap up the group title next Sunday with a win at Mozambique or a Guinea loss or tie against Zimbabwe.