The reigning African champions Ahly were scheduled to open their African Champions League campaign on Tuesday by facing Sudan’s Merrikh in the first match of the group stages of the continent’s most prestigious club football competition. Simba of Tanzania and Vita Club of DR Congo round out Group A.
In an all-Egyptian final, Ahly had beaten archrivals Zamalek 2-1 for last year’s African trophy, their record-extending ninth title.
Ahly fans continued celebrating their team’s historic achievement in the FIFA Club World Cup. Ahly defeated Brazilian giants Palmeiras 3-2 on penalties in the play-off for third place to win the bronze medal for the second time in the club’s history. Their first bronze was claimed in the 2006 edition in Japan.
Ahly had also defeated hosts Al-Duhail 1-0 in the opener before European champions Bayern Munich beat Ahly 2-0 in the semi-final to win the trophy for the second time by beating Concacaf’s Tigres UANL of Mexico in the final. The German team who claimed their maiden title of the competition in 2013, thus earned their sixth trophy in a year, a feat only achieved once before by Barcelona in the 2008/09 season.
The FIFA Club World Cup is the first FIFA tournament to be staged in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. The event saw six matches being played at the Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium and the Education City Stadium, where 12 goals were scored, an average of 1.7 per game. Top scorers were Andre-Piere Gignac of Tigres UANL who scored three goals while Robert Lewandowski scored two. Lewandowski also claimed the Golden Ball Award, while Andre-Pierre Gignac claimed the Silver Ball Award. The Bronze Ball Award went to Joshua Kimmich of Bayern Munich and the Fair Play Award went to Al-Duhail SC.
According to Aly’s football team director Sayed Abdel-Hafiz, winning the bronze medal was great, “but the event is over now and there is no time for celebrating. We need to focus now on defending our CAF Champions League title, which we won last year. The home and away games against Merrikh will be very tough and we need to concentrate on both games. In the Champions League, we take it in stages because each stage is different and the challenges vary,” he said.
On the other hand, the Egyptian Football Association has decided to postpone Ahly, Zamalek and Pyramid matches in the round of 32 in the FA Cup because of their engagements in the African competitions. Ahly are the defending champions of the FA Cup after beating Talaea Al-Geish in the final last year.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 February, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly