Zamalek threw away their lead to slump to a 2-1 loss to ENPPI on Friday that ended their eight-match unbeaten run in the Egyptian Premier League.
All goals were scored in an exciting second half as the success-starved Zamalek, who are chasing their first league title since 2004, tasted defeat for the first time since their surprise 2-1 loss to Ittihad El-Shorta back in November.
Ahmed Gaafar made an instant impact after coming on as a second-half substitute to give Zamalek the lead but a brilliant acrobatic effort from fellow substitute Ahmed Raouf gave ENPPI an equalizer.
Raouf turned from scorer to provider to set up strike partner Ahmed Abdel-Zaher for the winner with ten minutes remaining, silencing the enthusiastic Zamalek crowd who later hurled insults at the referee for what they perceived his failure to award the Cairo side a penalty in the latter stages.
Zamalek, who failed to avenge their loss to ENPPI in the Egypt Cup final last year, missed out on the chance of moving top.
They remained third with 32 points, one behind second-placed Ahly and two adrift of surprise leaders Harras El-Hodoud who could both extend the gap when they play their respective games on Saturday.
ENPPI, who had their fortunes turned around following the arrival of former Ahly coach Hossam El-Badry, lie ninth in the table with 21 points.
The match was interrupted in the second minute following a bizarre incident that saw Zamalek fans throw a handful of balls onto the pitch.
It was resumed after ENPPI and Zamalek players kicked the balls away but the referee had to stop the match again few moments later after the die-hard supporters repeated the peculiar action.
The fans lifted banners criticizing the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) for planning to implement a professional league system next season to abide by the statutes of world governing body FIFA.
Zamalek, whose starting line-up included newly-signed midfielder Nour El-Sayed and debutant Alexis Mendomo of Cameroon, dominated possession in the first half but struggled to break down a resolute ENPPI defence.
Winger Mahmoud Abdel-Razek “Shikabala” and Benin striker Razak Omotoyossi, who produced some superb displays lately, failed to shine as ENPPI’s solid backline kept them at bay.
However, Zamalek’s sole first-half opportunity fell to Omotoyossi when a rare defensive blunder allowed him to break clear but his low shot was blocked by ENPPI keeper.
ENPPI’s first sight of goal came on 26 minutes when a curling free-kick from Abdel-Zaher went just wide.
In a frenetic second half, ENPPI spurned a golden opportunity to go ahead in the 59th minute when midfielder Saleh Gomaa was sent clean through by a deft pass from Ivorian striker Vincent Die Foneye but Zamalek keeper Abdel-Wahed El-Sayed rushed out to thwart his poor shot.
ENPPI were made to pay for the miss moments later when defender Osama Ragab slipped to allow towering striker Gaafar, who replaced attacking midfielder Mohamed Ibrahim, to meet a pass from El-Sayed with a fierce first-time shot that went into the roof of the net.
Zamalek failed to build on the opening goal though, leaving gaps at the back which ENPPI exposed more than once to claim a precious win.
Raouf restored parity in the 72nd minute when he pounced on the failure of Zamalek defence to clear a free kick to send an unstoppable acrobatic volley past the motionless Abdel-Wahed El-Sayed.
Abdel-Zaher fired wide with the goal gaping five minutes later but he made amends in the 80th minute when he finished off a swift move with a low shot from the edge of the area.
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