Derby day

Alaa Abdel-Ghani , Tuesday 19 Jul 2022

Egypt’s best two football clubs meet in the final of the domestic cup in yet another titanic clash, reports Alaa Abdel-Ghani

Zamalek and Ahly
Zamalek and Ahly (archival photo)

 

Ahly and Zamalek, Egypt’s one-two football punch, resume their forever rivalry today in an encounter which, at least for the moment, will determine who reigns supreme.
The stage for bragging rights is the final of the 2020-21 Egypt Cup, the oldest football championship in Africa.
Being held Thursday 21 July in Cairo Stadium, the final was to have been played last year. The preliminary round began in January 2021 but subsequent games were postponed due to the coronavirus.
The finale is thus being played in the midst of this year’s cup, already in progress and into round 16, causing much confusion and casting doubts on the organisational abilities of the football authorities.
However, there are no two ways concerning the importance of the game; the stakes are high. Founded in 1921, this will be the 89th edition of the cup, the most famous knockout football tournament in the country. The winner can claim the top of the hill. The loser can only wait till next time.
The Cairo derby pits crosstown opponents, the most famous and most successful clubs in Egypt, the rest of the Arab world and Africa. Ahly and Zamalek were named by the African federation the first and second African clubs of the 20th century respectively. Their rivalry is famously fierce, one of the world’s most heated, abetted by tens of millions of stalwart fans, although it is acknowledged Ahly attract a wider audience.
Ahly have 37 national cup titles; Zamalek 27. But Zamalek were the first to win the cup, in 1922.
Ahly are the defending cup champions, having defeated Tala’ea Al-Gaish in the final.
The last time Ahly and Zamalek met was in an exciting league fixture in June in which the two drew 2-2.
Ahly come off a 2-0 loss to Pyramids in a Premier League match last Saturday. Earlier that day, Zamalek defeated Mehalla by the same score.
Ahly’s loss left them in third place on 48 points, nine points behind leader Zamalek with 57 points, although Ahly have two games in hand (Zamalek have nine games left; Ahly 11). Just a few weeks ago, Ahly would have been five points ahead if they had won all their postponed games. Now, should they do the same, they will be three down.
While all eyes are on Zamalek and Ahly, Pyramids, in only their fourth year, are quietly making a run at the league title. They lie second with 53 points after 25 matches.
Ahly go into the cup final on shaky ground following the sudden departure of South African coach Pitso Mosimane last month.
His speedy replacement, Portuguese coach Ricardo Soares, has understandably yet to settle in after just four matches (two wins, a draw and a loss). But he got his feet wet fairly quickly in cup play. No sooner did he land in Cairo than Soares led Ahly to a 2-0 semi-final victory over second division side Petrojet.
Zamalek advanced to the final after a 2-1 hard-fought victory over Aswan in the last four.
In the cup final, Soares, 47, will come up against a countryman, Zamalek’s Portuguese head coach Jesualdo Ferreira who is a much older hand. Ferreira, 76, steered Zamalek to a rare double, the league and cup titles, in 2015. The cup’s bridesmaid that year: Ahly.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 July, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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