Ahly used to chase Zamalek around in the Egyptian Premier League race but they are now given a timely opportunity to climb to the summit during the crucial stage of the season.
The Red Devils face ENPPI on Tuesday, one day after leaders Zamalek missed out on the chance of moving three points clear of their Cairo rivals after they were held to a disappointing goalless draw by a determined El-Geish side.
Zamalek’s stumble strengthened the belief of Ahly fans that their team are well equipped to clinch a seventh consecutive league title and widen the misery of the White Knights, who have not won the competition since 2004.
Ahly will become the league leaders for the first time this term if they overcome ENPPI and will enjoy a two-point advantage over Zamalek with just five matches to go. Both teams are scheduled to meet in a crunch Cairo derby later this month.
Enthusiastic Ahly supporters flooded Internet message boards and social networking websites with ecstatic comments about their team’s chances of wrapping up a 36th league title that is likely to break the hearts of a Zamalek side who are celebrating their centenary.
“Once we go top, no one will be able to dethrone us,” one fan said, referring to Ahly’s undisputed psychological advantage over the success-starved Zamalek, who often complain that their bitter foes get special treatment from referees.
But Ahly should not expect an easy task against ENPPI, famously known for causing a huge upset eight years ago. In 2003, ENPPI defeated Ahly 1-0 on the final day of the season to gift the league title to Zamalek.
“Our match against ENPPI will be difficult, both teams always engage in electrifying matches. But the players are fully ready for that game,” Ahly football director Sayed Abdel-Hafiz said on the club’s official website.
“We have huge incentives to win this match. The players are aware how important it is to claim all three points.”
ENPPI, who are aiming for a top-four finish, lie fifth in the table with 39 points.
Meteb is back
Ahly received a major boost after striker Emad Meteb, who rejoined the club in the January transfer window after abruptly annulling a deal he signed with Belgium’s Standard Liege last summer, recovered from a fractured rib injury.
He is line to make his first appearance this season after being included in the team’s 18-man squad for the game. His return could put an end to lack of cutting edge, given the failure of the likes of Dominique Da Silva, Mohamed Nagy ‘Gedo’ and Osama Hosny to prove their worth upfront.
“Meteb is ready technically and physical to play the match. However, it is up to Jose to decide whether to field him,” Abdel-Hafiz added.
Midfielder Shehab Ahmed, who was a regular member of Ahly’s starting line-up under Jose’s predecessor Hossam El-Badry but was surprisingly demoted to the bench following the Portuguese’s arrival, was also named in the roster after scoring in Egypt’s 2-0 win over Sudan in the Olympic Games qualifiers on Saturday.
Long-term absentees Mohamed Abou-Treika and Mohamed Shawky are still nursing their injuries.
ENPPI, Egyptian Cup winners in 2005, will have to do without their top scorer Ahmed Abdel-Zaher and veteran defender Amr Fahim due to automatic suspension.