Zamalek get the better of former icon to remain on top of Egyptian league

Hatem Maher , Wednesday 7 Jan 2015

Ayman Hefni
Zamalek playmaker Ayman Hefni scored the winner against Arab Contractors in Wednesday's Egyptian Premier League game (Photo: Zamalek's official Facebook page)

Former Zamalek star Hassan Shehata, now in charge of Arab Contractors, was on the losing end as the White Knights claimed a 1-0 Egyptian Premier League win to go three points clear on top for their second straight win following the abrupt departure of coach Jaime Pacheco.

Shehata, who led Egypt to three successive Nations Cup titles during the last decade, made his name as a prominent Zamalek star from the late 1960s to early 1980s and came face to face with his boyhood club for the first time in almost 10 years.

In-form playmaker Ayman Hefni, who inspired Zamalek to a 2-1 comeback win over Petrojet last week, scored what proved to be the winner midway through the first half with a delightful curler.

Zamalek remain on top with 40 points, three clear of second-placed ENPPI who claimed a late 1-0 victory over Gouna earlier in the day. Their win over Contractors will boost their morale ahead of the Cairo derby against arch-rivals Ahly on 29 January.

Defending champions Ahly are fourth on 27 points but they still have four games in hand as they chase a ninth consecutive league title.

The defeat against Zamalek marked the second loss for Contractors in nine matches under Shehata, under whom the Mountain Wolves have notably improved.

Zamalek, who are led by caretaker coach Mohamed Salah, once again made light of a number of injuries and the shock resignation of Portuguese boss Pacheco, who unilaterally terminated his contract after falling out with outspoken chairman Mortada Mansour.

Wreaking havoc

Winger Ahmed Eid, 34, wreaked havoc down the left and was so energetic that he kept drifting back to assist left-back Islam Gamal, who made his first start for Zamalek since his close-season arrival to replace the injured Ahmed Samir.

Hefni was not as lively as he was during the win over Petrojet but his delicate touches still came in handy for Zamalek, who almost fell behind after five minutes when Contractors full-back Ahmed Ali sent a free header just wide.

Zamalek then took control, with a curling free-kick from striker Khaled Qamar and a long-range drive from Ahmed Ali drawing superb saves from Contractors keeper Mahmoud Aboul-Saoud.

They deservedly opened the scoring on 23 minutes when a clever dummy from Qamar following a neat Eid pass found Hefni, whose first-timer went in to the far corner of the net from an acute angle.

Zamalek took their foot off the gas pedal in the second half as Contractors gained the upper hand, launching some dangerous raids that prompted opposition coach Salah to introduce two defensive-minded midfielders in a bid to regain control.

Contractors were unlucky not to draw level seven minutes after the restart when Zamalek keeper Ahmed El-Shennawy, back in the starting line-up following a two-month injury layoff, parried a cross into the path of Ghanaian striker Ernest Papa Arko whose shot was superbly cleared off the line by defender Ahmed Dweidar.

El-Shennawy was also on alert to block a side-footed effort from Papa Arko following a defensive lapse as Zamalek held on in the latter stages to claim all three points.

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