Fresh from their Egypt Cup win, Zamalek are zeroing in on another prize, the league crown, which would be their second in succession.
The math is simple: Zamalek are so far in the lead and would be the season’s champions if they win their final eight games regardless of what their closest rivals do.
Easier said than done. Having won their last five games in a row, the law of averages says it will be difficult for the streak to continue unblemished to the end.
Plus Zamalek will in the next month be facing one serious contender and a host of desperate teams that are in danger of relegation.
Still, Zamalek are currently in pole position. At the time of writing on Tuesday, the defending champions had 60 points after 26 games with eight left. They are four ahead of Pyramids FC (56 points from 26 matches) and nine clear of third-placed Ahly, who have two games in hand.
Fresh from beating traditional rivals Ahly 2-1 in the final of the Egypt Cup last week, Zamalek put away Alexandria’s Smouha in Sunday’s league match.
Despite the loss of several key players due to contracts expired, financial disputes, injuries and yellow cards, Zamalek made short work of Smouha, winning 2-0 with aplomb. Smouha is a decent fifth place team which had beaten Zamalek 2-0 in the first leg.
Veteran Portuguese coach Jesualdo Ferreira, who was at the helm when Zamalek won a rare double in 2015, is attempting to do it again. But he is enduring the departure of several big names, starting with Moroccan winger Achraf Bencharki whose deal ran out before the season could end. Bencharki, 27, was by far the best foreign player in the Egyptian league this season with his deft scoring and passing touches.
Contractual rows also forced midfield dynamo Tarek Hamid and goalkeeper Mohamed Abou Gabal, one of the stars of the Africa Cup of Nations held earlier this year, to head for the exits.
But in their place Ferreira has brought in a crop of youngsters who have seamlessly picked up where the stars left off. Defenders Hossam Abdel-Meguid and Sayed Abdullah have been revelations. Midfielders Youssef Osama Nabih and Seif Farouk Gaafar, sons of former Zamalek greats, belie their age with the composure they have shown in just the few times they have played.
The rookies are moored by lithe goalkeeper Mohamed Awwad, the league’s top scorer with 13 goals Ahmed Al-Sayed, or Zizo, arguably the league’s best player this season, and team superstar Shikabala. Though age has slowed him down, Shikabala still strikes fear in the hearts of defenders, while inspiring the new kids in town.
Zamalek’s next opponent are Future FC, today, Thursday, 28 July. Future are no pushovers, sitting comfortably in fourth place with 42 points from 26 matches. Zamalek won the first game 3-2.
After that come Pyramids on 1 August in a showdown of top teams.
The betting is that should Zamalek get past these two teams relatively unscathed, the league trophy would be within striking distance. Ferreira has said he hopes injuries and suspensions do not derail the team. He might also have added the infamous Zamalek foible: their penchant for losing or tying against lesser teams, like those fighting to remain in the first division.
Zamalek were greatly buoyed by their resounding 28th Egypt Cup triumph on Thursday. They were up 2-0 in the half thanks to horror mistakes by Ahly goalkeeper Ahmed Al-Shinnawi and central defender Yasser Ibrahim that were pounced on by Zizo and Emam Ashour.
Striker Hossam Hassan got one back as Ahly dominated most of the second half but that would be all she wrote.
Following the cup loss, Ahly defeated Gouna in a league match on Sunday 2-0 although the winning goal came with just over 15 minutes left, against a team battling to survive in the limelight of the first division.
Ahly’s new Portuguese coach Ricardo Soares has been unable to right the ship after the sudden departure of South African Pitso Mosimane last month. Soares has complained about the congested fixture of games which he says has given him little time to actually coach and which he added has caused a rash of injuries, most recently to forward Mohamed Sherif, international midfielder Amr Solaya, and winger Hussein Al-Shahat that have ended their season.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 July, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.