The unexpected humiliating defeat at the hands of Barcelona melted the icing on the centenary celebrations cake
Al-Ahli hosted the European Champions League title holders Barcelona to celebrate its centenary, which by coincidence marked the one hundredth championship the club won throughout its illustrious history. The match of the African and European titans was aimed at serving as the icing on the centenary cake. But to the red fan’s chagrin, the icing melted on the cake, and the team didn’t live up to its supporters’ expectations, who flocked to the stadium in their tens of thousands to celebrate, and was dealt a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Catalonian team.
The unexpected defeat aside, Al-Ahli continued their run towards their favourite league title. By edging the Army 2-0 in a moderate game, Al-Ahli tightened its grip on the title for the third year in a row. The expected victory, which settled the competition four weeks before the league ends, was a compensation for the wounded pride of the millions of red fans across the country. It continued its winning streak by thrashing the Olympic team of Alexandria 3-0, bringing the total of the points it garnered to 73 points.
As Egypt Oil and Gas went to press, the team was scheduled to encounter their arch-rivals Zamalek in a game that’s widely viewed by the fans of the two powerhouses as a championship unto itself. Without the expertise of its Angolan import Flavio and the recent returnee Mohamed Barakat, the Red Devils had to meet Zamalek who is lurking to make up for all the failures and misfortunes they went through this season — after being knocked out of the African and Arab championships.
Adding injury to insult, the team would meet their challengers without their Portuguese head coach Manuel Jose, who asked for a leave till the end of the league matches. Jose, who renewed his contract with the club for one year with a 10% increase in his salary, will spend the vacation in his home country, leaving his assistant Hossam El-Badry to lead the team during the remaining three matches against Olymic of Alexandria, Zamalek, and Ismaili.
The team would also meet their second challenger, third-placed Ismaili, in the coastal city of Ismailia in the final stage of the league. Having been dealt a sudden, humiliating 3-0 defeat at their hands in Cairo in the first half of the league, Al-Ahli will be in an awkward situation when it plays with their second string amidst the fervent fans of the coastal city club.
Zamalek, on the other hand, is embroiled in a hard-fought competition with third-placed Ismaili for the second place, which will qualify its holder for next year’s African Champions League. With only one point ahead of its rival, Zamalek (62 points) achieved two convincing victories over the Coastal Guards (3-0) and Ittihad of Alexandria (1-0) that catapulted it to second place. The second place on the league table and a victorious run towards the final of Egypt Cup — in which they reached the last-eight phase — will be the only solace for the afflicted supporters of the club.
Zamalek’s moderate ambitions, however, will clash with the sky-high aspirations of Ismaili. The coastal team, as its French head coach Patrice Neuveu revealed, “aims at finishing in the second place on the league table, winning the Confederation Cup, and lifting Egypt Cup for the third time in the club’s history.” The team managed to pass to the last-eight phase of the African Confederation Cup after beating Al-Widad of Morocco 3-0 on aggregate.
In the last-eight stage of the Egypt Cup, Zamalek is scheduled to meet second-division Mansoura, Al-Ahli will clash with the Army, and Ismaili will encounter its Suez Canal rival Misri of Port Said. In case the three powerhouses cruised past the three relatively weak opponents, the last-four stage will witness a clash of titans. Lifting the Egypt Cup will be a face-saver for both Ismaili and Zamalek, and a finishing touch for defending champions Al-Ahli.
As for the oil club teams, it has become crystal clear that Assiout Petroleum bid farewell to the premiership league, having collected only 21 points out of 28 eight games. Meanwhile, Enppi and Petrojet stuck to their seventh and eighth positions.
(By Mohamed El-Sayed)