A stunning second-half strike from Ghanaian striker Ernest Papa Arko earned Smouha a surprise 1-0 victory over defending champions Ahly in the Egyptian Premier League on Thursday.
The 28-year-old, who joined Smouha in the close season after the Alexandria-based club spent big to bolster their squad, fired a thunderous long-range shot in the top corner four minutes past the hour mark to give his side their first league win and condemn Ahly to their first defeat.
The Cairo giants, who scraped 1-0 victories in their opening two league matches, looked dearly affected with the absence of influential trio Mohamed Nagy ‘Gedo’, Mohamed Abou-Treika and Ahmed Fathi.
Right-back Fathi and forward Gedo joined English second-division side Hull City on loan, with the latter opening his account with a poacher’s header in their 2-1 victory over Derby County earlier this week.
Classy playmaker Abou-Treika, an Ahly icon, moved to Emirati club Bani Yas on loan where he marked his debut with a superb goal.
Their presence was sorely missed as Ahly struggled to threaten Smouha to remain second in Group A with six points, one behind leaders Bani Suef Telephones.
In a new two-group league format, the winners of the two groups will advance to play a mini-league with only home fixtures to determine the champion. The competition is being played behind closed doors at military-owned stadiums due to security concerns.
Wingers Mohamed Barakat and Abdallah El-Saied worked tirelessly to carve out opening in the first half but Emad Meteb and El-Sayed Hamdi were sluggish upfront, leaving Smouha’s defenders with an easy task to keep them at bay.
Smouha were forced to make an unscripted substitution after 13 minutes when goalkeeper Amir Abdel-Hamid made way for Palestinian-born guardian Ramzi Saleh after picking up an injury. Both are ex-Ahly shot-stoppers.
Saleh was called into action in the 27th minute when he rushed out to block a shot from the wasteful Hamdi, who was released by a through pass from veteran midfielder Barakat.
Smouha mustered some tame shots which did not trouble Ahly keeper Sherif Ekramy in the first half but they notably improved after the break following the introduction of Mahmoud Abdel-Hakim, a skillful yet lethargic playmaker whose stepovers and feints left opposing players chasing shadows.
They were rewarded in the 64th minute when Papa Arko, under no pressure, let fly from 30 metres and his shot flew past the despairing dive of Ekramy, who was caught out of position, and into the top corner of the net.
Ahly coach Hossam El-Badry introduced newly-arrived striker Ahmed Abdel-Zaher in a bid to pep up his attack but the debutant failed to make an impact.
The Red Devils’ best chance came with six minutes remaining when substitute Ahmed Shokri attempted a back-heel volley with the goal gaping after Hossam Ashour crossed the ball for him but it went over the bar.
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