Ahli’s winning streak was halted, but for a while

Before the second leg match of the African Champions League final kicked off on 9 November, nobody could have imagined a worst scenario of the much awaited game. Ahli, buoyed by two consecutive winning of the coveted African title in 2005 and 2006, was expected to punish Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia, especially after the Egyptian side held their Tunisian foes to a goalless draw in Tunisia two weeks before.

The Red Devils fans indulged themselves in the dreams of a historic victory over the Tunisian giant which didn’t have the honour of lifting the prestigious cup before. A sure victory was in the wind, and a fifth African title was between the Egyptian giants hands. Red jerseys were dreaming of a third consecutive appearance in the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan to play world giants like A.C Milan.

However, against all odds, Ahli’s dreams were dashed by the powerful Tunisian side. The Tunisians managed to get the better of the Egyptian team that deprived them of their first African Champions League title in 2005 after being punished 3-0 in the Military Academy Stadium. This year, Etoile du Sahel remedied its wounded dignity, having hammered Ahli 3-1 in the presence of President Mubarak on head of more than 55 thousand fervent fans.

Desperate attempts by Emad Miteb, Flavio and Mohamed Abu Treika who elbowed their way to the Tunisian goal couldn’t get the team back on track. The humiliating loss was blamed on the defense line that was in tatters. Other critics referred the unprecedented loss to Manuel Jose’s management of the game. That’s why, perhaps, he received much of the offensive chants by Ahli supporters following the match.

“I really didn’t expect this reaction from the fans, but I completely shoulder the responsibility of the loss,” Jose said. But he was courageous to express his readiness to quit the job. “I was insulted by some of Ahli fans. And if I am the only problem, I don’t mind leaving the job, for I will find another job the following day. But what Ahli fans did is totally unusual,” he added.

Conspiracy theory reigned supreme following the match. Sports critic and editor-in-chief of the weekly Al-Ahram Al-Riyadi put the blame on the Confederation of African Football (CAF) which, he viewed, wanted to put a brake on Ahli’s winning streak. This was apparent since the first leg in Sousse when the CAF didn’t cancel the “unjustified” yellow card Ahli’s illustrious midfielder Mohamed Barakat had received.

Jose blamed the defeat on the unfair arbitration in the first leg in Sousse as well as the second one in Cairo. “The referee failed to hand Abu Treika and Qenawi two penalty kicks, a matter that crowned a series of mistakes that deprived Mohamed Barakat of a penalty kick in the first leg in Tunisia,” he explained.

The Portuguese head coach didn’t consider the defeat a total collapse. “The defeat is a step back in a long way of achievements,” he admitted. He promised that Ahli would appear in the final of the competition in 2008, for “our normal performance qualifies us to be there.”

Despite the loss, Jose is considered one of the best coaches to have took the responsibility of the Egyptian powerhouse, with a heavy list of 12 various local and continental titles. That’s why, the voice of reason inside the club calls on the board not to do without the services of the veteran Portuguese head coach.

On his part, Ahli’s captain Shadi Mohamed’s comments after the match could solace the grieved fans. “I offer my apologies on behalf of my teammates for sad Ahli fans. The efforts exerted by the players were not enough to defend the tite,” he said. “Ahli has long been the source of happiness for the Egyptians. But this is football: win and loss. There is no need to undermine the morale of the players…”

The sudden defeat will undoubtedly negatively affect the team’s international ranking. By November Ahli came in the 25 place among the top teams in the world according to the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS). Ahli was the best Arab and African team, followed by Etoile du Sahel which came in 56th place in the rankings.

Nevertheless, the defeat is considered by many observers as a storm in a teacup. Continuing a winning streak that started three years ago.

Standings

 
Team
P
Home
Away
W
L
D
GF
GA
Pts
1
Petrojet
9
5
4
7
1
1
23
7
22
2
Al-Gaish
9
4
5
7
1
1
13
6
22
3
Ahli
8
3
5
5
0
3
12
7
18
4
Zamalek
10
5
5
5
3
2
13
8
17
5
Ismaili
9
5
4
4
1
4
17
9
16
6
Ghazl Mahalla
10
5
5
3
3
4
11
12
13
7
ENPPI
10
5
5
3
4
3
14
16
12
8
Telecom Egypt
10
5
5
4
6
0
11
15
12
9
Aluminum
10
5
5
3
4
3
10
18
12
10
Harras Al Hodoud
10
5
5
2
3
5
11
11
11
11
Tersana
10
5
5
3
5
2
14
15
11
12
Arab Contractors
10
5
5
2
3
5
9
12
11
13
Baladeya
9
5
4
3
5
1
12
16
10
14
Masri
10
5
5
2
5
3
8
10
9
15
Ittihad
10
5
5
1
5
4
12
15
7
16
Suez Cement
10
5
5
1
6
3
9
22
6

By Mohamed El-Sayed

 

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