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Thursday, 28 January 2021

Preview: Egyptian league bounces back to life after lengthy stoppage

Hatem Maher , Wednesday 5 Aug 2020
Egyptian league
File photo of an Egyptian Premier League game between Ahly and Ittihad
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Views: 2269

After much debate over whether it's viable to resume the Egyptian Premier League, the domestic competition comes back to life on Thursday following a five-month hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The league has been suspended since mid-March with just half the matches played, leaving many clubs puzzled as to how the season could be completed without disrupting the next edition, which normally starts in October at the latest.

The current season will now last until October at least but the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) said it will make sure no further disruptions will occur in the following season.

"The coming season must end by 30 June because Egypt will take part in the Olympics," the head of the EFA's competitions committee Hossam El-Zanati said, referring to the 2020 Tokyo Games that was delayed to next year because of the pandemic.  

"I hope the Egyptian national team would not have any commitments during FIFA's international match calendar in October, so that we can finish the league in time."

Despite the initial opposition of a handful of clubs, including Cairo's popular club Zamalek, who went as far as threatening to withdraw from the competition, the EFA insisted that restarting the league was a "state decision."

But the governing body said the health and safety of players and staff was a priority, introducing a raft of precautionary measures and warning clubs that any failure to comply would have dire consequences.

Every club have run several rounds of PCR tests before the league's resumption, with more than three dozen cases detected. Further tests will be carried out before the start of every round.

Although all of those who tested positive only had mild symptoms, one case was particulary alarming.

At a single club, El-Entag El-Harby, 19 coronavirus cases were detected, prompting the EFA to postpone their opening game against FC Masr and issue a stern warning to other clubs.

"We cannot expect any similar outbreaks at other clubs because El-Entag's case has its own circumstances and was dealt with in this context," the EFA said in a statement.

"However, the discovery of such a big number of infections at one club is considered medical negligence … responsibility lies on every club to implement all precautionary measures to ensure the safety of everyone.

"Otherwise, clubs could be subject to severe sanctions, like what happened in other countries that witnessed similar outbreaks."

On the pitch, runaway leaders Ahly are destined to win a fifth straight title. The Red Devils sit top of the table on 49 points, 16 ahead of nearest challengers Arab Contractors, who played a game more.

For Ahly's perennial rivals Zamalek, the priority would be finishing second and earning an African Champions League spot. They lie fourth with 31 points, two behind Arab Contractors, who played two matches more.

The league will restart with a rescheduled match between Zamalek and Masry on Thursday. The game will be played behind closed doors.

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

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