Zamalek win but unruly fans spoil the party

Alaa Abdel-Ghani , Tuesday 21 May 2024

The Egyptian club won the African Confederation Cup for a second time but rowdy supporters tempered, actually hampered, the celebrations, writes Alaa Abdel-Ghani



Famed Egyptian football club Zamalek won the African Confederation Cup on Sunday, edging RS Berkane of Morocco 1-0 in Cairo International Stadium in front of a raucous crowd that got out of hand.

Berkane had won the first leg in Morocco 2-1.

It was Zamalek’s second confederation title, having won the trophy in 2019 when they also defeated Berkane in the final.

Berkane could not add Confed trophy No 3 after winning the title in 2020 and 2022.

In a game of few chances and even less goals, one thing that the match might be remembered for more was the flooding of wild Zamalek supporters pouring onto the field after the final whistle. 

Their celebrations went beyond the usual joyous chants and jumping up and down; they were jumping over people, east and west and every which way. 

The unsuspecting young lady, as an example, chosen to walk onto the field carrying the trophy was knocked silly by some delinquent trying to evade security. The poor thing, who had barely reached the grass, was hit so hard that she disappeared from the screen, falling from view – she as well as the cup she was about to proudly show off – after the wayward blow.

The melee got so big and bad that Egypt’s Sports Minister Ashraf Sobhi and President of the Confederation of African Football Patrice Motsepe were pretty much left to fend for themselves as they pushed and shoved their way – and were pushed and shoved back – to the medals ceremony.

CAF was not impressed by the disorganisation and the ensuing mayhem. “CAF strongly condemns security breaches and spectator misbehaviour during and after the Confederation Cup second leg final played in Cairo,” a statement said, adding that it had referred the matter to the relevant CAF bodies for investigation “and disciplinary measures if necessary”.

So while the trophy – after its dismemberment – is safely in Zamalek hands, a hefty fine surely awaits the club.

Back to the relative boredom of the game that preceded the hijinks of the fans, Zamalek had a golden opportunity after just five minutes when a sure header from Senegalese midfielder Ibrahima Ndiaye was reflexively palmed away by goalkeeper Hamza Hamiani.

The sole winning goal came in the 23rd minute when January signing Ahmed Hamdi took a pass in the box from Ahmed Sayed Zizo before striking the ball on the half-volley (nine out of 10 times Egyptian players in the same situation would have stopped the ball first, to most likely lose it, but Hamdi struck it first time, perhaps learning a thing or two from playing in Canadian Major League Soccer club CF Montreal three years ago).

Berkane’s frustrations boiled over late on as defender Hamza El Moussaoui received a straight red card for deliberately stomping on Zizo’s leg, reducing them to 10 men.

The 12 minutes added in stoppage time did not bring about any major developments.

Sandwiched in between the first and second leg a surprising war of words broke out between the two coaches.

In a presser on Saturday, Zamalek’s Portuguese coach Jose Gomes said that the Egyptian side “is a bigger club than RS Berkane”, forcing Moine Chaabani to say he was surprised by the comment and that Gomes “should pay more respect” to his opponent.

The truth is that both clubs are fairly equal and the ultimate decider of the title, besides Hamdi’s winning effort, was the away goal rule, which still stands in African football, and which Zamalek’s Tunisian striker Seifeddine Jaziri made the most of in Morocco.

His header gave Zamalek a lifeline in the tie as they headed into the return leg with just a goal deficit.

The Confederation Cup, akin to the Europa League, is now in its 20th year and is Africa’s second most coveted club football trophy; the Champions League is the more important.

Besides Zamalek, only one other Egyptian team, crosstown rivals Ahly, have won it, in 2014.

Zamalek should be commended for the win considering they were without two of their big stars Abdullah Said and Nasser Maher who were ineligible to play throughout the campaign because they signed late for the team.

They were also without their injured talisman, the veteran skipper Shikabala.

The team also had to get used to coach Gomes in a hurry after he hopped aboard only in February this year.

Helping Zamalek to the title was really weak opposition. 

In Group B, Zamalek finished with 16 points from six games and a possible 18 points. The group featured Abu Salem, Sagrada Esperance and CO Coyah, hardly known outside their countries, if that.

In the quarter-finals, Zamalek met one of their more serious challengers, countrymen Modern Future, winning 2-1 and tying 1-1.

In the semi-finals Zamalek played debutantes Dreams of Ghana and won the two-legged tie but did it backwards, drawing scoreless in Cairo before blanking the newcomers 3-0 in Ghana.

Also aiding Zamalek was political fate. They could have met defending champions USM Alger of Algeria in the final instead of Berkane but that did not happen because of Alger’s refusal to play in the semi-finals against Berkane.

Alger were incensed by Berkane’s jerseys that had a map of Morocco drawn on them which included a slice of territory that Algeria considers its own. Alger thus forfeited the two matches, deemed the loser 3-0 in each game.

In a way, Zamalek lost on Sunday, too. Yes, they won the game and the Confed crown, however, their boisterous supporters took it too far, hijacking what should have been a crowning moment.

Though only a few hundred miscreants were involved in the disturbance out of a peaceable 70,000 spectators, the scenes were nevertheless a disgrace and not a particularly good look for club or country.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 23 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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