Makeover pays off

Alaa Abdel-Ghani , Tuesday 9 Aug 2022

In the midst of a miserable stretch that has just about ended their league title hopes, Ahly benched their starters and brought in new blood. It worked, reports Alaa Abdel-Ghani

Makeover pays off

 

Ahly are still in the race for the football league crown but as the finish line approaches, the Cairo giants are dropping farther and farther back.

With just five matches left, Zamalek have taken over first place with 69 points, a commanding seven points ahead of Pyramids at the time of writing and a whopping 10 more than crosstown rivals Ahly who have a game in hand.

Ahly do have a mathematical chance of overtaking Zamalek but to do so they would surely have to win all their remaining matches while Zamalek would have to suffer an extraordinary meltdown. Going by recent performances of the two, neither scenario looks likely to materialise. Zamalek are on a seven-game winning streak while Ahly have bled points, going down to Smouha and Pyramids in what was until only last month a tight three-way battle.

That Zamalek are inching closer to their second straight league title has forced Ahly to do things differently by introducing some young legs and benching some regulars. The new route is being taken as much to chastise the big names on the team for their many below par performances as it is to give an opportunity to a few rookies to see what they can do.

Apparently, they can do a lot.

Young forward Ahmed Sayed Gharib showed his fellow elders how it should be done, scoring twice as Ahly beat Ittihad on Sunday 3-0 following two straight draws.

Gharib was one of three new faces injected into the club, not including those who have seen limited playing time.

The experiment was noteworthy considering the team has already been decimated by several season-ending injuries to key players.

But Ahly’s message was clear: players of all kinds must pull their weight and if somebody thinks he need not because of his name value, he is welcome to muse the issue while watching the games from his living room.

The decision does come with risks. Ahly would like to finish in at least second place to ensure a berth in the African Champions League which they have won a record 10 times.

A third place finish will drop the team to the African Confederation Cup, a tournament lesser in stature and prize money. Inexperienced youngsters may not be able to fulfill this particular goal.

The decision was not a surprise. The cub announced in a statement on its official website last week that it would bring on some of its tiger cubs, thus honoring its pledge.

But the statement also demanded the sacking of the refereeing committee and the suspension of the VAR referee during their league game with Pharco. Until that time, the club warned it would boycott the Egypt Cup and Egyptian Super Cup.

Ahly were incensed by recent refereeing decisions that scratched off what would have been winning goals in two consecutive games. The goals, by Hossam Hassan against the Arab Contractors and by South African Percy Tao against Pharco were ruled offside even though replays clearly showed they were not. Consequently, instead of garnering a full six points the team was forced to settle for only two from two draws.

It remains to be seen whether Ahly will indeed carry out their threat of withdrawing from two of the country’s top football tournaments.

So far the club has kept its word concerning a new look. No matter that Ittihad lie 13th in the 18-team table with 33 points, six clear of the relegation zone.

A win is a win and these days Ahly will take three points anyway they can.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 August, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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