Zamalek’s hopes to breathe a sigh of relief in what is turning out to be an unremarkable centenary year took another blow following their stunning defeat by ENPPI in Tuesday’s Egypt Cup final.
The Cairo club, founded in 1911, were hoping to end a three-year title drought to give their fans something to cheer about following a trophy-less run that saw arch-rivals Ahly outshine them to win seven consecutive Egyptian Premier League titles.
There was a timely chance to do so but ENPPI, who were hardly tipped to cause an upset, stunned around 75,000 fans at a packed Cairo Stadium to spoil their celebrations and leave Zamalek with little room for amendment before the end of 2011.
The majority of Zamalek fans applauded the players and new coach Hassan Shehata following the final whistle but others could not hide their disgruntlement, hurling stones at the team bus and calling for the return of former boss Hossam Hassan.
“I want to apologize for all Zamalek fans, they do not deserve that outcome,” former Egypt coach Shehata, talking briefly to the media, said following the match.
Success-starved Zamalek, whose last triumph was in 2008 when they beat ENPPI in the Egypt Cup final, looked promising after Shehata took over, overcoming Gouna, Wadi Degla and Haras El-Hodoud with convincing victories to reach the competition’s final.
Winning Egypt’s secondary domestic competition would have been an ideal start for a new era that Zamalek fans hope would be the remedy for a barren spell, with the White Knights last winning the league in 2004.
“I never felt that sad during my entire club career,” veteran midfielder and Egypt skipper Ahmed Hassan, who joined Zamalek in the close season after his contract with Ahly expired, said on his official website.
“I was eager to win that trophy for the sake of the fans who were very supportive during our run to the final.
“I just hope they continue to support us in the coming period especially that we still have the Premier League and the coming African Champions League to play for.”
Bye bye 2011
Zamalek may challenge for the domestic league and African Champions League titles, but they will not be able to turn the clock back and get something out of a centenary year to forget.
They simply wasted all opportunities.
They entered 2011 with a healthy six-point advantage over Ahly at the halfway stage of the season but could not keep it intact following January’s revolution, which forced a lengthy Premier League stoppage.
Ahly managed to overturn that deficit in the latter stages to break Zamalek hearts and prompt their board of directors to dismiss coach Hossam Hassan, who was widely popular among the fans.
Zamalek also exited the Champions League at the first hurdle after losing to Tunisia’s Club Africain in a two-legged tie that was marred by an ugly pitch invasion in the second leg at Cairo Stadium.
They yearned for a consolation victory in the Egypt Cup, which was resumed following months of speculation over whether it would be cancelled due to a hectic schedule, but ended up having to bear stern criticism from their supporters.
The club could not even invite a high-profile club to meet in a friendly as part of their so-called centenary celebrations, which are nowhere to be seen.
Many statements were released by several board members saying that the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United, Inter Milan and Liverpool were ready to face Zamalek in Cairo.
However, Zamalek, who are often blamed for constant administrative problems, could not save their face after failing to arrange any friendly game.
“We are the victims of a very poor board of directors. They should leave immediately!” a die-hard Zamalek fan said on micro-blogging website Twitter.