Zamalek refused to admit their own shortcomings after a poor display saw them slump to a stunning 1-0 home defeat to 10-man Maqassa in a Egyptian Premier League match on Thursday.
The leaders failed to restore a three-point lead over arch-rivals and second-placed Ahly after being outplayed by a Maqassa side who played with ten men for around 57 minutes, following the first-half dismissal of lone striker Hussein Hamdy for allegedly elbowing an opponent.
Exposing Zamalek’s defensive fragility, Moroccan attacking midfielder Omar Najdi, who came on as a second-half substitute, stunned the vociferous home crowd when he rounded off a neatly-worked counter attack with 12 minutes remaining.
The backline lapses were not the only source of concern for the success-starved side, who committed a series of errors to suffer their third defeat of the season and ignite worries over whether they can end a seven-year wait for the prestigious title.
Zamalek’s quick-tempered football director Ibrahim Hassan, the twin brother of head coach Hossam, opted to point fingers at league challengers Ahly and referee Yasser Mahmoud for the surprise loss at Cairo Stadium.
The hosts were not awarded a penalty when Hamdy handled in the area early in the game and had a goal wrongfully disallowed due to an offside call after the break.
“Ahly’s policy of attacking referees to influence their decisions bore fruit tonight,” Ibrahim Hassan, a usual staunch critic of the Red Devils despite playing for them for more than 15 years in the 1980s and 90s, told the post-match news conference.
“You all saw what the referee did tonight. He ruled out a legitimate goal and denied us a clear penalty.
“I spoke highly of the referees recently but it seems the refereeing committee is doing its best to deprive Zamalek of the league title,” he added.
Zamalek chairman Galal Ibrahim also said the club would file a complaint against Mahmoud while many supporters phoned TV sports programmes to accuse the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) of favouring Ahly.
“I want to know why we are even bothering to play in the league; we should declare Ahly as winners from the very beginning,” one furious fan sarcastically said.
Although Zamalek were harshly treated by the referee, they paid for some horrendous mistakes which cost them what looked like an easy victory, given their numerical advantage.
The centre midfield problem came back to haunt Zamalek, with duo Hassan Mostafa and Ibrahim Salah unable to push forward and fulfil their attacking duties, leaving forwards isolated upfront.
Amr Zaki’s deep-lying role, which was notably successful in last week’s thrilling 3-2 victory over Arab Contractors, was nowhere to be seen against Maqassa as the combative striker stood still in the 18-yard box, leaving defenders with the easy task of marking him.
The four-man defence was also exposed by Maqassa’s breakaway efforts which eventually helped them score the winner when Najdi caught left-back Mohamed Abdel-Shafy napping to tap in at the far post.
The lack of depth in Zamalek’s squad was also apparent as the three substitutions made by manager Hossam Hassan hardly made a difference.
“We played our worst game this season. The players did not execute any of our instructions,” Zamalek assistant coach Tarek Soliman said in a rare confession.