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Monday, 06 April 2020

'I'm building a new team,' Jol on expensively-assembled Ahly squad

Ahly boss Martin Jol seemed unfazed by his side's 1-1 league draw with 13th-placed Ittihad, stressing that his main aim was to give some players playing time

Omar Zaazou , Monday 4 Jul 2016
Martin Jol, coach of Egypt
Martin Jol, coach of Egypt's Al Ahly (Reuters)
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Ahly boss Martin Jol stated that he is working on building a new team for Egyptian league winners Ahly following their low-key 1-1 home draw with Alexandria's Ittihad at the Borg El-Arab Stadium on Saturday.

After Ahly had gone ahead through Emad Meteb, who made a rare appearance in his side's starting 11 against Ittihad this season, the veteran front man's first-half goal was cancelled out by an outstanding strike from Ahmed El-Alfi after the break.

The game in itself did not mean much for Ahly, who were formally crowned league champions following their 2-1 win over bitter rivals Ismaily with two matches to spare.

It was the context in which the draw came that is of importance, with Ahly succumbing to two defeats in the Champions League group-stage opening two games, losing 3-2 away to Zambia's ZESCO before slumping to another 2-1 home defeat at the hands of ASEC Mimosa.

With Ahly now at the bottom of their Champions League Group A, their ardent fans have started to feel the danger ahead of their African showdown with Morocco's Wydad – who are widely favoured to make it to the competition's semis.

Even so, Ex-Tottenham manager Jol made light of this particular draw with 13th-placed Ittihad, stressing that he made changes to his starting lineup against the Alexandrians in an attempt to get some of the players ready for the upcoming period.

"Of course I hoped to beat Ittihad, but the result [of the game] is not my utmost concern," the 60-year-old Dutch boss said in the post-match press conference.

"I intended to give some of my men some playing time in an attempt to prepare them for the Champions League and domestic cup,” he said.

"Defender Saad Samir for example had to be given a chance. It's illogical to continue with the same centre-back pairing all through the season.

"Right-back Bassem Ali also posed a threat down the flank after coming on in the last 15 minutes. Some changes were even forced due to the injury of holder Hossam Ashour and Ahmed Fathi's stomach problem.

Jol made several changes to his lineup, most notably the omission of first-choice keeper Sherif Ekramy following a howler that gifted ASEC the winner in Ahly's 2-1 defeat, with Ahmed Adel deputising between the sticks.

Centre-back Samir also came into the side alongside Ahmed Hegazy, but the former received his marching orders midway through the second half for two bookable offenses before Ittihad bagged the leveller.

Mohamed Hani replaced Fathi on the right, but the fortunate change came up front, with Meteb, who was supported by summer-signing Ahmed El-Sheikh, starting to net his side's opener in the first half.

The statement by Jol that he is working on building a new team has raised some eyebrows, after Ahly had already spent big in the close season in an attempt to beef up their squad.

Sporting Lisbon defender Rabia, Ghanaian striker John Antwi, ex-Maqassa forward El-Sheikh and Gabon hitman Malick Evouna were all acquired by the Cairo giants, but it was that particular last deal that cost them heavily.

The transfer of the ex-Wydad striker, who finished as the Moroccan league top-scorer with 16 goals the previous season, saw Ahly secure his services in a massive deal that exceeded $2 million – a big sum by Egyptian standards.

It remains to be seen how Ahly's future will be under the highly-rated tactician, who will be leading them against Wydad on 16 July, a week after they meet arch-rivals Zamalek in a last league-week Cairo derby. 

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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