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Egyptian League back to life amid security concerns

The Egyptian Premier League is finally back in action following more than two months of obligatory stoppage due to January's uprising

Hatem Maher , Tuesday 12 Apr 2011
Egyptian League
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The Egyptian Premier League will re-start on Wednesday to boost the financially-struggling industry, despite widespread security concerns in the wake of January's revolution.

Defending champions Ahly face Ittihad El-Shorta and League-hopefuls Ismaily take on Petrojet in the high-profile matches set for Wednesday, although the fixtures are being overshadowed by heavy protests from players angry about unpaid wages.

A dozen Zamalek players threatened to file a complaint against their club over late salaries, and players of Alexandria-based club Ittihad decided to boycott training for a similar reason.

The clubs perceive the League's resumption as an ideal way to generate income and get out of trouble, but security concerns still hover over the country, following a popular revolution that eventually toppled former president Hosni Mubarak.

An ugly pitch invasion and violence by fans led to the cancellation of an African Champions League clash between Zamalek and Tunisian side Club Africain in Cairo, and forced a re-think over whether it was appropriate to resume the League in such a tense atmosphere.

But the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) was given security guarantees by the interior ministry, which will be responsible for tackling any hooligan-related problems during the anticipated domestic games.

"I'm happy with the resumption of the League," said Ahly coach Manuel Jose, who returned to the Red Devils in January to lead them for a third spell following two hugely-successful stints.

"It is important to restart because the income of many people depends on football. Those people were struggling during the competition's stoppage."

Ahly's League hope

Ahly, who are bidding to win a seventh consecutive League title, sacked coach Hossam El-Badry and brought in Jose to replace him after making a disappointing start to the season.

They will be looking to overcome El-Shorta on Wednesday to narrow the six-point gap with leaders and arch-rivals Zamalek, at least for one day.

"You can't write off our chances of winning the League title. Some naive people already ruled us out of the race," Portuguese tactician Jose, whose Ahly side lie fourth in the table, told reporters.

"El-Shorta are tough opponents. They have good abilities to close down spaces at the back and hit their opponents on the break."

Ahly welcome back attacking midfielder Mohamed Barakat after he recovered from injury but veteran midfielder Ahmed Hassan is still out despite shrugging off a serious knee injury. 

Algerian playmaker Amir Sayoyd was included in Ahly's squad as he seeks to make an impact under Jose after failing to convince El-Badry he was good enough to play regularly. 

Zamalek are reeling following their Champions League exit at the hands of Africain and will be looking to make amends when they meet Harras El-Hodoud on Thursday.

The Cairo club's coach Hossam Hassan is hoping to lead the team to their first League title since 2004.

Ismaily, who are just three points short of Zamalek, are also aiming to atone for their stunning exit from the Confederation Cup, Africa's secondary club competition,  after losing 4-2 on aggregate to Kenyan side Sofapaka.

Any stumble against Petrojet could possibly seal the fate of Ismaily's beleaguered Dutch coach Mark Wotte.

After the EFA confirmed that relegation rules will be normally applied, bottom side Ittihad will be anxious to avoid a slip-up against Maqassa on Thursday.

Fellow strugglers Wadi Degla and Arab Contractors meet in Cairo in a battle for safety.

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