Unfurling a huge banner which read: “Oh God, give us the cup” before kick-off was in stark contrast to the angry murmurs that followed Zamalek’s 2-1 defeat by ENPPI in the Egypt Cup final in 2011, which ensured the ailing Cairo giants would extend their barren domestic run.
They have struggled on all fronts since then, and just when it seemed they were well equipped to end a five-year title drought and win the Egyptian Premier League this season, the competition was cancelled in the wake of the army’s ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July.
They will still have a chance to make amends and give their hungry fans something to cheer about when they meet unfancied Wadi Degla in the Egypt Cup final after the secondary domestic competition survived the serious effects of the ongoing political turmoil.
"We need something to make us happy. We have had enough of the lack of titles and our constant defeats. Just like the fans, the players are in desperate need of joy, " said Zamalek skipper and goalkeeper Abdel-Wahed El-Sayed.
The cup final is traditionally played in Cairo but Saturday’s tie will take place in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of El-Gouna due to lingering security concerns in the capital.
Defying a crowd ban, Zamalek’s hardcore supporters (Ultras White Knights) have vowed to attend the match, prompting security officials to make a U-turn and decide to allow them to enter Gouna’s tiny stadium, which can only host several thousand spectators.
“The interior minister has promised chairman Kamal Darwish that 4,000 fans will be allowed to attend the match. He stressed that they should not deviate from the norms of sportsmanship,” Zamalek said in a statement on their official website.
Zamalek, whose last triumph came in 2008 when they beat ENPPI in the Egypt Cup final, have enjoyed an easy ride to the final, making the most of the absence of arch-rivals Ahly who withdrew from the competition over a sponsorship dispute with the Egyptian Football Association.
They overcame some modest opponents such as El-Entag El-Harby and El-Gaish to march on to a possible 22nd cup title.
Wadi Degla’s progress was quite remarkable after they dispensed with more than 10 players last summer due to persistent financial difficulties, with their fine run including a semi-final victory over Ismaily in penalty shootout.
Such impressive results will not count for nothing even if they lose against Zamalek, having ensured they would feature in next year’s CAF Confederation Cup for their first-ever appearance in an African competition.
“We respect all our opponents … and Wadi Degla’s qualification for the final proves that they are a good team,” Zamalek coach Helmi Toulan said on the club’s website.
“But we are fully focused on winning the cup tomorrow. The players are very determined, and their high morale will be key to winning the tournament.”
Zamalek will be also keen to atone for a disappointing African Champions League campaign, which saw them fail to qualify for the semis after finishing behind Orlando Pirates and Ahly in the group stage.
South Africa’s Pirates and defending champions Ahly meet in the competition’s final second-leg on Sunday.
If Zamalek beat Wadi Degla, they will give Toulan his first title in his managerial career.
The 63-year-old took over at his boyhood club following the departure of Brazilian coach Jorvan Vieira, who turned around Zamalek’s fortunes but left in the summer due to the mounting financial problems that rocked most of the Egyptian clubs.
Zamalek weclome back veteran midfielder Ahmed Hassan after a lengthy absence. They are also taking heart from the immediate impact striker Ahmed Ali has made since joining from Ismaily, having netted three goals in the team's run to the final.
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