It was a painful week for Egyptian football following a string of stinging defeats by their African counterparts.
Algerian side USM Alger registered a shock 1-0 victory over Egyptian giants Ahly in the African Super Cup final. Zamalek fell 2-0 to Djibouti’s Arta Solar in the first leg of the round of 32 in the Confederation Cup. And Tunisia swept Egypt away 3-1 in a friendly, ending its eight-game winning streak.
The biggest disappointment was Ahly’s loss of the African Super Cup in Saudi Arabia on 15 September. The game pitted Ahly, winner of the African Champions League, against titleholders of the African Confederation Cup Alger.
A first-half penalty from captain Zinedine Belaid was enough to earn Alger the surprising 1-0 victory, sealing their first Super Cup title.
Ahly were the clear favourites, aiming for a record-extending ninth Super Cup in their 11th participation.
The win also avenged Alger’s loss to Ahly in the same final two years ago.
The game was played following a nearly two-month off-season layoff by the Egyptian league which might have affected the stamina and timing of some of Ahly’s players. The 2023-24 season kicked off on Monday.
Meanwhile, USM’s head coach Abdelhak Benchikha has now won back-to-back Super Cup titles with two clubs, the first time for each, after guiding RS Berkane of Morocco to their maiden Super Cup championship last year.
A day later, in the early round of 32 in the Confederation Cup, came another shocker for Egypt when minnows Arta Solar of Djibouti blanked Zamalek, the 2019 champions, 2-0. But at least Zamalek, unlike Ahly, have an opportunity to make up for the loss when the two meet in Cairo on either 29 September or 1 October, according to reports.
Arta Solar scored the two goals in the 55th and 60th minute, securing the first-ever victory for a Djiboutian side over an Egyptian team.
Arta Solar created another piece of history by becoming the first Djiboutian club to enter the second round of the Confederation Cup, the second most prestigious African club football tournament following the African Champions League.
Zamalek could not get on track despite the game not even being played in Djibouti which lost for Arta Solar home field advantage. The match was moved instead to Tanzania due to a decision by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) not to recognise Arta Solar Stadium in Djibouti.
Zamalek played with the double whammy of being prevented from making any new signings under a FIFA-imposed transfer ban this season while also missing the services of injured international stars Ahmed “Zizo” Sayed and Ahmed Fatouh. The transfer ban will be lifted once the club settles their outstanding dues owed to Portuguese club Sporting Lisbon.
After winning the Egyptian league title two straight seasons and making regular appearances in the Champions League, Zamalek finished third last season, eliminated from the Champions League at the group stage and exiting the Egypt Cup.
The Egyptian clubs were not the only ones bitten by the African bug. North African rivals Tunisia got the better of Egypt in a friendly match on Tuesday 12 September in Cairo, winning 3-1.
Before Egypt could blink, Tunisia were 2-0 within seven minutes, thanks in part to an own goal by midfielder Hamdi Fathi. Omar Kamal pulled one back in the 34th minute before Tunisia sealed the victory with a goal in injury time.
The win extended Tunisia’s better head-to-head record against Egypt, having now won 16 games as opposed to 13 loses and eight ties.
The loss was the first experienced by Egypt’s Portuguese coach Rui Vitoria in over a year at the helm. Since taking over Egypt in July 2022, Vitoria had won eight consecutive times in all competitions. Most of the victories came in the qualifiers for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations and in truth, Guinea, Ethiopia and Malawi in Group D failed to provide high-quality opposition.
The match, which included Egypt’s Liverpool star Mohamed Salah, was a dress rehearsal for Egypt as it prepares for the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) to be hosted by Ivory Coast in January next year.
Egypt has won the AFCON a record seven times. It was the losing finalist to Senegal in 2022.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 21 September, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly