101 and Counting

Having won the Egypt Cup, Ahli garnered the 101st championship in its history

Perhaps the Egyptian derby between Ahli and Zamalek in the final match of the Egyptian Cup was one of the most exciting games in the history of Egyptian football. The 4-3 hard-fought, breathtaking local victory will go down in the Red Club’s history as the most precious of all.

By winning the derby, Ahli made many achievements on different levels. First, they took revenge on their archrivals who beat them 2-0 in the 29th stage of the National League in the absence of their head coach Manuel Jose and a group of its distinguished players. Second, the victory served as a turning point for the Red Devils whose performance curve took a downturn in the second half of the league.

Third, having collected the Egypt Cup and the National Football League trophy last year, the victory made Ahli secure the country’s two main championships for the second year in a row. Fourth, for the Portuguese head coach Manuel Jose, winning the cup made him the most successful head coach in the powerhouse club throughout its history. Egypt Cup was the 13th title Jose helped his team to win.

The win also spurred the team’s run towards defending the African Champions League title which they secured in the past two years. Having edged Al-Hilal of Sudan 2-0 in Cairo in the last ten minutes, Ahli continued its unbeaten streak in the group phase by defeating Asec of Ivory Coast on the latter’s home turf 1-0. The victory was the first for an Egyptian side in the West African country. That’s why, perhaps, President Hosni Mubarak was keen to officially congratulate the team following the final whistle, although the match was not a final.

By defeating the Ivorian team, Ahli is now on top of the first group with six points, Al-Hilal of Sudan is in second place with three points, Asec and Esperance of Tunisia are in third and fourth places respectively with one point each. Ahli was scheduled to meet Esperance late in July.

Reaching the top is relatively easy. However, keeping the top position is especially difficult. Therefore, Ahli began to support its ranks with distinguished players. Ahli’s officials signed former Zamalek midfielder Moataz Eino, and have been trying to sign Ismaili’s brilliant midfielder Hosni Abd Rabbo. Club officials have also entered into negotiations with Sfaxien of Tunisia to sign its outstanding striker Abdel-Kareem El-Nafti. Meanwhile, Ahli sold its defender Mohamed Seddik to Misri of Port Said and midfielder Wael Riyad to Enppi.

And as has been the habit of the country’s two richest clubs, a fervent competition between Ahli and Zamalek started with the aim of joining the best Egyptian players to enhance their ranks. Zamalek managed to sign defender Mahmoud Fatahalla of Ghazl El-Mahalla after a hard competition with Ahli’s officials. The total transfer deal amounted to LE6.6 million, according to Mahallah officials. Apart from Fatahalla, Zamalek has signed three other players: Khaled Saad of Faisali of Jordan, its former defender Beshir El-Tabei of Riz Sport of Turkey, and Karim Zekri of Misri of Port Said. The team is now camping in France in preparation for the new season. Therefore, it refused to play the Super Cup match against Ahli on 9 August.

Meanwhile, the coastal city club, Ismaili’s illustrious run is threatened to be halted. Financial and administrative problems have afflicted the club and portend a divide in the team. The team’s distinguished midfielder Abd Rabbo might move to Ahli due to Ismaili’s failure to pay the money to his French club on time. Mohamed Fadle, the team’s top scorer last season with 15 goals, and midfielder Sayed Moawwad have not received their money due last month according to their contracts, and therefore they have filed a complaint with the Egyptian Football Association.

The Egyptian Football Association has announced the schedule of the 2007-2008 season. Misri of Port Said will host defending champions Ahli in the first week on 13 or 14 August. The same day will see a hard-fought encounter between runner-ups Zamalek and Ismaili, which was third-placed last season, in Cairo.

The Ahli-Zamalek derby will be held in the fifth phase on 16 or 17 September, while they will meet again in the 20th phase of the tournament. Other matches of the first phase include: Suez Cement vs. the Army, Tersana vs. Petrojet, the Arab Contractors vs. newly promoted Baladiyet El-Mahalla, the Coastal Guards vs. Ittihad of Alexandria, Ghazl El-Mahalla vs. Enppi, and newly promoted Egypt Telecom vs. newly promoted Aluminum.
The first half of the league will come to a close on 25 December, and the tournament will be concluded on 19 May 2008. And the final of Egypt Cup will be played on 25 May 2008.

By Mohamed El-Sayed


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