Two-time Egypt Cup winners ENPPI are persistently attempting to ensure it won’t be a traditional two-horse race featuring Ahly and Zamalek in this season’s Egyptian Premier League campaign.
ENPPI, managed by a promising coach in Tarek El-Ashry, emerged from the shadows to outshine Cairo giants Ahly and Zamalek almost halfway through the season, winning nine times and losing just once in their first 12 matches.
They have every reason to believe they can break the Ahly-Zamalek duopoly for the first time since 2002, when Ismaily won the title in one of the most memorable and interesting league campaigns.
Although their roster does not include a standout player, they boast the league’s most potent attack with 31 goals. Strikers Ahmed Gaafar and Lama Kone of Guinea scored nine goals between them, with the rest coming from midfielders and defenders.
Winger Amr El-Halawani, who netted six goals, was particularly praised for his set-piece prowess, which has proved a valuable asset to ENPPI.
Should ENPPI beat El-Ashry’s former club Haras El-Hodoud in Saturday’s tie, they will overtake current leaders Zamalek and restore their one-goal advantage at the top.
“We are facing a very tough competition from Ahly and Zamalek followed by Wadi Degla and Petrojet. But I think it’s difficult for either Ahly or Zamalek to win the title this season,” El-Ashry said in an interview with Ahram’s daily newspaper.
“There is no reason to think we will fail at the end. We enjoy the backing of a supportive board of directors … and the players are very ambitious to retain the team’s place at the summit.
“We only lack the support of fans. If we had a fan base, we would be considered a complete team. Look at how the supporters played a crucial role when Ahly scored in the dying minutes to win the African Confederation Cup,” he added.
ENPPI are one of many clubs who were founded by existing companies, all of whom have struggled to build any fan base despite sporadic success. They are owned by an oil company that bears the same name.
Zamalek, who played a game more than ENPPI, are on top of the table 31 points. Defending champions Ahly, who are eyeing a ninth straight title, lie a distant sixth on 20 points but they still have four matches in hand.
The Red Devils, buoyed after becoming the first Egyptian side to win the Confederation Cup, have recovered from a stuttering start to their title defence to record five consecutive wins as coach Juan Garrido appears to have finally settled on a winning formula.
They will still be missing some long-term absentees when they take on Wadi Degla in a rescheduled match on Saturday. Striker Amr Gamal, goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy and forward Gedo are still nursing their respective injuries.
Veteran midfielder Hossam Ghaly, who is recovering from a hamstring complaint, and flu-stricken winger Walid Soliman, who is arguably Ahly’s best performer so far this season, are doubtful for the game.
(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)