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Yearender 2018: Mo Salah steals show again, Egypt endure nightmarish World Cup

Check our list of the most prominent football highlights in Egypt in 2018

Ahram Online , Monday 31 Dec 2018
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Yuri Zhirkov in action with Egypt's Mohamed Salah (Photo: REUTERS)
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The Best: Mohamed Salah

Salah
Liverpool's Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah celebrates after scoring their second goal from the penalty spot during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Newcastle United at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on December 26, 2018 AFP

Salah arguably had the best year of his career, making headlines with a series of dazzling displays that earned him multiple individual awards at the end of the season.

His record haul of 32 goals in a 38-game top-flight league campaign was the most impressive as Liverpool finished fourth to earn a Champions League spot on the final day of the season.

However, his season ended in a sour note, having picked up a shoulder injury in the UEFA Champions League final against Real Madrid after an infamous challenge by Spanish defender Sergio Ramos.

He was taken off in tears and Real went on to clinch the trophy with a 3-1 win.

Salah, facing a race against time to be fit before the World Cup, underwent an intensive rehabilitation program but he cut a forlorn figure at the tournament as Egypt endured a nightmarish campaign on their first appearance in 28 years.

He missed the opening loss to Uruguay but was on target in the following matches against hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia, although Egypt lost both to bow out in embarrassing fashion.

He also fell out with the Egyptian Football Association over his image rights and had a relatively slow start to the new season with Liverpool.

However, he was soon back to his dazzling best, netting 12 Premier League goals by the end of the year to lift Liverpool to the top of the table. He was rewarded by breaking into the top three of FIFA's prestigious Best award, finishing behind winner Luka Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo.

 

The Disappointment: Egypt's World Cup Campaign

World Cup
Egypt's Mohamed Salah looks dejected as Russia players celebrate their first goal scored by Egypt's Ahmed Fathy with an own goal (Photo: REUTERS)

Last year was truly memorable, with Egypt qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 1990. Optimism engulfed the country ahead of the Russia finals but the Pharaohs came crashing down to earth during the tournament.

Many believed Egypt had a good chance to advance to the knockout stages on only their third World Cup appearance after they were drawn with Russia, Uruguay and Saudi Arabia.

In preparation for the World Cup, Egypt played friendlies against Portugal and Greece in March 2018, losing 2-1 and 1-0 respectively. They drew against Kuwait 1-1 in May and 0-0 against Colombia in June.

Neither the results nor the performances impressed the fans or the pundits as then Egypt coach Hector Cuper adopted defensive tactics that made the team look timid and boring.

Despite sticking to his defensive strategy, Argentinean boss Cuper was able to keep Uruguay at bay until the death in their opening Group A game.

However, Egypt conceded a stoppage-time goal to lose 1-0, and disastrous showings ensued against Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Egypt were outplayed in a 3-1 loss to Russia before throwing away their lead to lose 2-1 to Saudi Arabia and miss out on a consolation victory that would have been their first-ever at the World Cup.

In the aftermath of their embarrassing campaign, Egypt sacked Cuper in June 2018. 

 

 

The Rise: Zamalek

Zamalek

Since winning their last Egyptian Premier League title in 2015, Zamalek have flattered to deceive, making many signings over the last three years but failing to challenge for the title.

However, they appear well-equipped to win the premier domestic competition this season and prevent bitter rivals Ahly from wrapping up a fourth consecutive title.

The White Knights produced some vivid attacking displays in the first half of the season, ending the year with eight straight wins which saw them open up an eight-point lead over nearest challengers Pyramids FC on top.

Zamalek overhauled their team after a catastrophic season in 2017-2018, finishing fourth in the table and exiting the CAF Confederation Cup from the round of 32.

For the first time in years, Zamalek appointed their coach before the season got underway, giving him the chance to get familiar with the team before they get down to business.

Swiss boss Christian Gross managed to build a solid team, especially after the return of wingers Mahmoud ' Kahraba' Abdel-Moneam and Moustafa Fathi from Saudi loan spells.

The first became one of the team's top scorers while the second earned the trust of Gross after producing some fine displays down the right flank.

Tunisian midfielder Ferjani Sassi, who joined Zamalek in the summer, gave the team a dose of creativity and formed a solid partnership with the defensive-minded Tarek Hamed.

Upfront, Zamalek boast an embarrassment of riches, with the likes of forward Youssef Ibrahim, Kahraba and Fathi wreaking havoc in the final third. They are also supported by some inviting crosses from in-form Tunisian right-back Hamdi Nagguez.

 

The fall from grace: Ahly

ahly
Soccer Football - African Champions League Final - Second Leg - Esperance Sportive de Tunis v Al Ahly - Stade Olympique de Rades, Rades, Tunisia - November 9, 2018 Reuters

Despite making a fine start to the year by clinching their 40th league title, Ahly faltered in the second half of the year to raise alarm bells.  

They were eliminated from the Egypt Cup quarters after being stunned by minnows Assiouty Sports, failing to keep their title.

They also made a slow start to their Champions League group stage campaign after dropping four points in the first two games, with their stuttering form prompting the club to dismiss coach Hossam El-Badry and appoint Frenchman Patrice Carteron as a replacement.

Ahly's chairman Mahmoud El-Khatib said that Carteron's main objective was leading the team to their first Champions League title since winning the last of their record eight crowns in 2013.

Carteron's early days were promising, with Ahly advancing to the quarters as the group leaders before going on to reach the final.

But they were given a reality check in the two-legged final in November, losing to Tunisia's Esperance 4-3 on aggregate to miss out on a triumph they long craved.

That bitter defeat had a snowball effect as their misery was compounded in the same month after they were eliminated from the Arab Zayed Cup round of 16 at the hands of UAE club Al-Wasl.

The team results' in the domestic  league were also disappointing as they lost 12 points of possible 32 to drop to sixth in the table with 24 points, 14 behind leaders Zamalek. They can still narrow the gap if they win their three matches in hand.

In December, Ahly embarked on a spending spree to rescue their season, making several acquisitions including signing their former winger Ramadan Sobhi from English Premier League Huddersfield Town on a six-month loan deal.

 

The Villain: Abdallah El-Said

Abdallah El-Saied

In a matter of few days, Ahly's fan darling Abdallah El-Said surprisingly became the hero-turned-villain of the year 2018.

Last season, El-Said grabbed the spotlight with some superb displays to help Ahly to a third straight Egyptian Premier League title, before a shock announcement by Ahly's arch-rivals Zamalek in March saw all hell break loose.

Zamalek president revealed that El-Said, who would have been out of contract in June, put pen-to-paper on a deal with his team, getting EGP 40 million in advance.

On 14 March, Ahly announced that they extended his contract for two years, thus preventing Zamalek from acquiring his services.

However, it was only a few hours before they abruptly put him up for sale as a disciplinary measure after learning that he had signed a contract with Zamalek before renewing his Ahly deal.

The out-of-favor El-Said was sent out on loan to Finnish club Kuopion Palloseura in April for just two months, giving him the chance to play regularly to be fit for Egypt's World Cup campaign.

Following the World Cup, El-Said moved to Saudi club Al-Ahli on a permanent basis.

The 32-year-old player played an instrumental role in helping Ahly win the league with six matches to spare last season. He scored 67 goals and created 54 others in 227 appearances with the Red Devils in all competitions last term.

El-Said joined Ahly from bitter foes Ismaily in 2011 but used to live in the shadow of iconic playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika. However, he assumed the playmaking role following Abou-Treika's retirement in late 2013.

He has won four Egyptian league titles, two African Champions Leagues, a Confederation Cup and an Egyptian Cup among other minor accolades since his arrival.

 

The Star: Walid Soliman

Walid Soliman
Soccer Football - CAF Champions League - Semi Final - First Leg - Al Ahly vs ES de Setif - Al-Salam Stadium, Cairo, Egypt - October 2, 2018 Al Ahly's Walid Soliman celebrates scoring their first goal REUTERS

When veteran playmaker Abdallah El-Said left Ahly after falling out with the club towards the end of last season, Soliman was the man tasked with filling his gap, taking up an unfamiliar playmaking role.

He did not disappoint.

Soliman produced a number of scintillating displays to enhance his status as a fan darling, having proven the only source of creativity in an otherwise workmanlike roster.

He played an instrumental role in leading Ahly to the Egyptian league title as well as a place in the African Champions League final.

He scored six goals in 13 appearances in the continent's flagship competition, just one short of the competition's top scorers, and provided four assists.

Among the goals he scored in Ahly's run to the final this year was a decisive strike away to Algeria's ES Setif in the second leg of the competition's semi final.

With Ahly leading 2-0 from the first leg, Soliman outpaced his hesitant challenger to break clear and round off a breakaway with aplomb -- a typical no-nonsense finish – to leave the hosts with an uphill climb.

Needing to score four goals without reply in less than 30 minutes to overturn the deficit, Setif could only score two, with Soliman's strike making all the difference.

Ahly faltered at the last hurdle, losing 4-3 to Esperance on aggregate to miss out on a record-extending ninth title. However, Soliman remained the team's undisputed star.

 

The Big-Spending: Pyramids

Pyramids

Pyramids FC took the Egyptian football by storm this season after being taken over by Saudi investor Turki al-Sheikh, the then Saudi sports minister.

A lowly team that only featured twice in the top flight, they had their name changed from Assiouty Sport to Pyramids, going on a spending spree to sign more than 20 of the best Egyptian players, including international defenders Omar Gaber and Ali Gabr as well as midfielders Mohamed Farouk and Mohamed "Afsha" Magdi.

They were also able to lure dazzling Brazilian winger Keno, former Brazil midfielder Rodriguinho and German-based striker Dani Shahin.

The new born grew rapidly, moving up to second in the Egyptian Premier League with 30 points, eight behind leaders Zamalek. They are seen as serious title contenders.

The team are currently led by iconic Egypt striker Hossam Hassan, who is their third coach in less than six months after Alberto Valentim of Brazil and Argentinean Ricardo La Volpe.

Pyramids FC are not done with transfers yet, having signed striker Amr Marei, flamboyant Burkinabe winger Eric Traore and Ecuadorian scoring machine Jhon Cifuente for January to boost their chances in the title race. 

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

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