German champions Bayern Munich will meet Mexican giants Tigres in the Club World Cup final in Qatar today, Thursday 11 February. On the same day, Egyptian club Ahly take on Brazilian and CONMBOL Champions Palmeiras for the third place spot.
On Monday Ahly lost to Bayern 2-0, missing the chance to equal the African best performance of TP Mazembe of DR Congo and Raja of Morocco, who reached the final in 2010 and 2013. However, they will have the chance to match their best performance when they claimed the bronze in 2006.
No Arab or African club has ever won the Club World Cup. Al Ain of the UAE, representing Asia, lost to Real Madrid in the 2018 final 4-1.
On Monday, in minute 17, Bayern made their dominance count with a composed finish from Robert Lewandowski, the Poland striker and the 2020 FIFA Best player. He struck from close range for his 28th goal of the season. Kingsley Coman’s low cross was pulled back by Serge Gnabry and put on a plate for Lewandowski to open the scoring.
In the 85th minute Bayern sealed the deal after a phenomenal cross from Sane near the line gave Lewandowski practically an open net to head into and make it 2-0.
Cairo, the city that never sleeps, looked like a ghost town on Monday as the streets emptied during the clash.
Football analysts and fanson social media believed that Ahly and their first-year South African coach Pitso Mosimane left it all on the pitch.
Mohamed Al-Shennawi, Ahly’s captain and the best goalkeeper in Africa, talked to beIN Sports after the game. “I want to thank all the players who gave their all on the pitch. We believed in ourselves and we fought till the end.
“We congratulate Bayern Munich for the win, and we will fight for the bronze medal against Palmeiras,” Al-Shennawi added.
The two-time African Champions League winner Mosimane also spoke to beIN Sports. “We played against a great team. They had more possession than us. We started the second half with a low tempo.
“We could have played better but what we did was okay. We will try to improve in the coming games,” Mosimane said. Before the game, perhaps admitting to the effectively impossible task of beating Bayern, Mosimane had instead urged his players to “enjoy” the game.
Mahmoud Abdel-Moneim, or Kahraba, said the Ahly players played a good match against Bayern Munich, the European champions and one of the best and most famous clubs in the world, and that the team missed coming out with a good result.
“Bad luck kept us from forming a danger to the German team’s goal or scoring a goal against Bayern over the two halves of the match.”
“We will strive to make a good presentation in the match for determining the third and fourth places to win the bronze medal and dedicate it to the loyal Ahly fans who support us everywhere.”
After the final whistle, Bayern Munich veteran Thomas Muller posted a picture on Instagram of himself holding Kahraba’s jersey, writing “Thanks for Ahly for this great semi-final and that great audience.”
Muller talked to beIN Sports after the match. “Ahly is Bayern Munich of Egypt. They are a great team, and they have great fans.”
“The pitch and the atmosphere were amazing and I’m looking forward to be here with the national team in World Cup Qatar 2022.”
Ahly’s former legendary player Mohamed Abu Treika was in the stands with the fans and applauded the players after the match for their spirit and performance.
Ahly fans on social media were happy to see a reunion between AbuTreika and Ahly after several years in which he has been residing in Qatar.
With a whopping 42 titles, Ahly are Egypt’s record champions. They have won 37 domestic cups and are also the record champions in Africa’s continental club competition with nine CAF Champions League triumphs.
In the 2019/20 season, for the third time in the history of the club, Ahly celebrated the treble -- the national championship and cup, as well as the Champions League -- a world record that no other team has been able to emulate.
The Egyptians, who are competing in their sixth Club World Cup,went into the match against FC Bayern with a great deal of confidence, going 32 competitive matches unbeaten. They are currently in second place in the domestic league, five points behind leaders Zamalek but have also played two games less.
In October 2020, Mosimane took over as Ahly coach from Switzerland’s Rene Weiler who terminated his contract early because of family reasons. In their 22 competitive matches under Mosimane, the Egyptians were undefeated, winning 18 and drawing four, before their Bayern loss.
Without conceding a single goal, Bayern won the 2013 World Cup edition. In the semi-final, they defeated Asian champions Guangzhou Evergrande 3-0 before winning 2-0 against Moroccan champions Raja Casablanca. Five players scored all five goals: Franck Ribery, Mario Mandzukic, Mario Götze, Dante and Thiago.
On neutral ground, Bayern have won each of their last six competitive matches. This includes the last two Berlin DFB Cup finals (2019, 2020), three games in Lisbon last season to win the Champions League, and the 2020 UEFA Super Cup versus Seville in Budapest.
The European champions have won 17 of their last 18 foreign matches (all in the UEFA competition), with one exception being Atletico Madrid’s 1-1 draw on Match day 5 of the Champions League group stage this season. For the knockout stage, though, FCB had already qualified.
The two giants of European and African football had never met before in a competitive match.Ahly had met Bayern Munich in two friendly matches; the first was in 1977 that ended with a 2-1 win for the Egyptian team, and the goal scored by Ahly’s current club president Mahmoud Al-Khatib. The second was in 2012 that ended with a 2-1 victory for the Bavarians, with Ivica Olic scoring a brace and midfielder Mohamed Barakat scoring for Ahly.
One of Ahly’s best players last season Ayman Ashraf played in two positions against Bayern on Monday. Ashraf started as a central back then played as a left back when Ali Maaloul was substituted due to injury.
A date forever etched in Ashraf’s memory is Wednesday 16 September 2016 when the defender lost his mother and sister on their way to visit him in Alexandria in a tragic car accident.
For Ashraf, the experience was a living nightmare. The 29-year-old defender posted on his Twitter page two years after the accident about his tragic loss and how he recovered from that trauma.
“I lost the two most beloved people of my life two years ago. I’m trying to forget, so I can have a regular life, but something reminds me of them every day. All the things I recall. As nothing is more painful than losing them, I no longer feel any pain.”
Ashraf suffered a cruciate ligament injury the year before, just as he was about to make his full international debut under then Egypt coach Shawki Gharib, keeping him on the sidelines for an extended period. He returned to football over time, however, and learned to live with his injury, resume a sense of normality, and turn the page on this most horrific of pages.
Earlier this week, Ashraf won the Alibaba Cloud Award for Man of the Match for his outstanding performance against Qatar’s Al Duhail SC which helped his team win 1-0 and reach the semi-finals.
Ashraf and his team-mates at the back stood firm to keep the Ahly goal intact, facing incessant pressure from their Qatari opponents in the second half.
One of the talking points about the Club World Cup has been the structural beauty of the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al-Rayyan which was constructed for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. It is built on the grounds of the same name, the home of Al-Rayyan Sports Club. The spectacular, wavy facade contains symbols of Qatari culture, while the surrounding facilities and buildings in the form of sand dunes reflect the adjacent nature. The stadium was opened in December 2020 with room for 40,000 spectators.
Special attention was paid to sustainability when designing the stadium. After the 2022 World Cup, almost half the seats will be removed and donated to football development projects abroad. The smaller ground will then become home to Al-Rayyan of the first division. So far, the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium has played host to the final of the Emir of Qatar Cup. It is planned to hold six group games and a round of 16 matches in the 2022 World Cup.
Before Bayern and Ahly took to the pitch on Monday, Niklas Sule, Robert Lewandowski, Joshua Kimmich and Jerome Boateng took part in a language challenge alongside players from the Egyptian champions. Each side tried valiantly to repeat the words and phrases associated with each club in Arabic and German. The video is on the FC Bayern Munich YouTube channel.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 February , 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly