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Friday, 04 December 2020

Uncommon conquest

The remaining football league schedule is hazy but Zamalek’s derby victory over Ahly was anything but fuzzy

Inas Mazhar , Tuesday 25 Aug 2020
Zamalek players in control of  all through the game against arch-rivals Ahly
Zamalek players in control of all through the game against arch-rivals Ahly
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 The 23rd week of the Egyptian Football League kicks off on Saturday. According to the Competitions Committee of the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) the future schedule includes only the next three rounds.

EFA Head of Competitions Hossam Al-Zanati said the decision to release only the three upcoming rounds was due to the African Football Club Championships that three Egyptian teams are playing in.

Ahli and Zamalek will be playing in the semi-finals of the African Champions League. Ahly is scheduled to play against Wydad of Casablanca while Zamalek is to face another Moroccan team, Raja of Casablanca, also in the semis.

In the second tier Confederation Cup, Pyramids will play Horoya of Guinea in the semi-final. The unofficial date for the encounter is 22 September.

“We don’t have the scheduled dates for the three teams who are playing in the African competitions. We don’t know exactly who will play on 25 September and who will play on 26 September in the African Champions League. When we know, we can reset our schedule and release it,” Al-Zanati explained.

Al-Zanati said the EFA had to approach security officials in order to confirm when club Masri would play next after Haras Al-Hedoud and Ittihad, both from Alexandria, had their matches with Masri delayed. There is in addition a game to be replayed between Ismaili and Masri after the latter, depleted by coronavirus infections, failed to show up for a game against Ismaili.

“So, knowing when these games will be played will help us reschedule and announce the schedule for the entire season. This is why we only announced three weeks ahead as we believe that the information we seek will be coming soon,” Al-Zanati added.

On Saturday 29 August, three matches will be played: Military Production versus Talaea Al-Geish, Aswan against Pyramids and Masri versus Ahly.

On Sunday, Wadi Degla will clash with Masr, Semouha will play Tanta, Gouna will face the Arab Contractors and Zamalek will be up against Enppi.

Monday will see two matches played, Haras Al-Hedoud versus Al-Makassa and Ismaili against Ittihad of Alexandria.

The 24th week will take place from 2 to 4 September, while week 25 will be held from 5 to 7 September.

The league is five months behind schedule because of the coronavirus scare.

Meanwhile, Zamalek are still celebrating their shock 3-1 win over their long-time opponent Ahly on Saturday night. It was actually a double victory for Zamalek, who with the win in the country’s traditional derby, ended Ahly’s unbeaten streak in the Egyptian Premier League.

Ahly had started the game on the front foot and nearly scored in the sixth minute through their Senegalese forward Aliou Badji whose header hit the post.

Six minutes later, Ahly, seeking a record-extending ninth win in this tournament, created a similar goal scoring opportunity. This time the Senegalese was on target with another header which forced a flying save from Zamalek’s goalie Mohamed Abu Gabal.

Though Ahly had the better chances early on, it was Zamalek who opened the scoring 13 minutes into the game. Tunisian Achraf Bencharki skipped past Ahly defender Yasser Ibrahim on the left wing before setting up Ahmed Sayed Zizo at the far post who crashed the ball in.

An hour later Ahly levelled the score during a goalmouth scramble as Ibrahim made amends by managing to squeeze the ball into the back of the net.

But Zamalek took back the lead 10 minutes later thanks to Mustafa Mohamed, the Under-23 African Championship’s best player and top scorer, who added his team’s second goal after chesting the ball, then, with his back to the goal, swiveled superbly for a killer strike.

Magdi Afsha had his strike hit the Zamalek woodwork, the second in the game.

Ahly had an opportunity to score late in the second half after Badji passed the ball to Marawan Mohsen who let it go, thinking it was offside.

Mohsen’s mental lapse infuriated TV football analyst Emad Meteb, a former Ahly star. “Marawan Mohsen should take a vacation from football,” Meteb told ON Time Sports. “As a centre-forward, you should be aware of your position and the opposing defenders on the pitch.

“If he sees that none of his teammates are helping him on the pitch, then he’s the one not helping himself.

“He’s not thinking clearly and his head is certainly not in the game,” Meteb added.

Ahly’s Walid Suleiman was close to scoring another equaliser three minutes into injury time, but a counterattack by Zamalek which saw Bencharki, Mohamed Ounajem and Osama Faisal running full speed ahead, ended with Faisal, who came on as a substitute late in the game, scoring into an almost empty net to seal Ahly’s fate.

Zamalek’s win was tempered after experienced left-back Mohamed Abdel-Shafi sustained a fractured collarbone which will sideline him from six to eight weeks.

Ahly Swiss coach Rene Weiler was playing without regulars Ramadan Sobhi, whose loan deal ended, and the suspended Mahmoud Kahraba.

But their absences did not steal the limelight from Zamalek’s French boss Patrice Carteron, who only last year coached Ahly.

After almost three months in charge, Carteron has now led Zamalek to two titles -- their fourth CAF Super Cup at the expense of African Champions Espérance de Tunis, and the Egyptian Super Cup after defeating Ahly 4-3 on penalties following a 0-0 draw in Abu Dhabi.

Despite the loss, Ahly, the defending league champions, still comfortably lead the standings by a sizeable 14 points -- 56 points from 21 games played and 13 remaining, followed by Zamalek who jumped from fifth to second with 42 points. Pyramids are three points behind Zamalek. The Arab Contractors are fourth with 37 points while Ittihad of Alexandria and Enppi share the same number of points, 29, but the Contractors enjoy goal difference to stay fifth.

It was a rare league victory for Zamalek over their perennial rivals, only their third in the last 15 years in the domestic competition.

To put things in perspective, Ahly and Zamalek have now met in 120 matches in the Premier League. Ahly have won 45 matches, and Zamalek 27 with 48 matches tied.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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