Zamalek failed to come up with an away draw after succumbing to another defeat to South Africa's Mamelodi Sundowns, courtesy of an 80th
-minute own-goal from center-back Ali Gabr in the CAF Champions League group stage on Wednesday.
Having slumped to a 2-1 home loss at the hands of Sundowns the last round, a defensive-minded Zamalek failed to avoid another defeat by the South Africans – who have now guaranteed semi-final qualification following three victories that took them top of Group B.
Zamalek will now need to claim at least a draw when they host Nigeria's Enyimba, bottom of the group on zero points, on 14 August to book a semi-final berth – a qualification they last secured in 2005.
Skipper Hazem Emam was shunned by manager Mohamed Helmi after engaging in a squabble with teammate Bassem Morsi ahead of the game, as natural center-back Hamada Tolba deputized. New left-back Ali Fathi was also given his debut.
Despite having only three points from as many games, Zamalek were helped by the expulsion of Algeria's ES Setif following some crowd trouble in their opening group game – leaving the Cairo side with the chance to march through.
The match kicked off with Zamalek determined to sit back goal-side of the hosts' holding midfielder, in an attempt to close down spaces and feed striker Bassem Morsi and Shikabala with quick balls upfront.
The Whites, however, did not look quite comfortable playing a deep block, struggling to retrieve the ball quickly while failing to get it forward into attack.
And with full-back Tolba looking extremely weak down the right, the hosts looked continuously to attack Zamalek through the left – with their first chance arriving in the eighth minute with striker Leonardo Castro missing the target from inside the area following Tebogo Langerman's run down the left.
The dangerous Khama Billiat then got the better of Tolba down the right before seeing his cross-cum-shot tipped over by keeper Ahmed El-Shennawi – who was Zamalek's best performer of the night.
The Egypt keeper was called into action once again minutes later, denying Billiat after the latter capitalized on an ill-fated pass from Shikabala to center-back Ahmed Dwidar – who failed to get the better of the Zimbabwean.
The second half began, with Zamalek manager Helmi continuing with the same approach – as he clearly eyed an away draw that would get his side closer to a semi-final spot.
The Cairo giants, however, still struggled to contain the danger of their opponents' attackers – who signaled their first threat after the break through Langerman whose strike from long range went narrowly wide in the 58th minute.
Zamalek had problems in possession, with the lack of creative midfielders clearly taking a toll on their passing ability as manager Helmi opted to start with Ramzi Khaled as a left-winger and Ahmed Tawfik ahead of Tolba on the opposite flank.
And with the Zamalek forwards doing little to press their opponents, the home side continued to boss possession, as El-Shennawi was forced into another great save 15 minutes from time – thwarting full-back Thabo Nthethe's long-range strike.
The Zamalek first-choice keeper, however, did not ever expect that the danger would ever come from his own teammate, with center-back Gabr – who performed quite well in the game – diverting Billiat's cross from the left into his own net despite being under no pressure.
But it wasn't the end of Billiat's exploits on the night, with the forward keeping the Zamalek defense on their toes once again when he beat Gabr with his pace down the right hand-side of the area before forcing another superb save from El-Shennawi.
After earlier substituting Shikabala, Zamalek's only source of danger, manager Mohamed Helmi found himself in the position to chase the game – bringing on skillful playmakers Ayman Hefni and Mostafa Fathi.
But it was too little, too late, with the out-of-sorts striker Bassem Morsi running into space down the left late into stoppage time before seeing his attempted cross to Mohamed Salem intercepted by the keeper who managed to keep a clean sheet.
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