Preview: New coach, new gamble as Zamalek seek to maintain league pursuit

Ahram Online , Sunday 2 Jun 2019

Zamalek's 1-1 draw against El-Entag El-Harby sealed the fate of Gross (Photo: Al-Ahram)

The choice of a new boss after Zamalek opted against renewing Christian Gross' contract is proving unpopular with supporters, who fear such a gamble could backfire in the crucial part of the Egyptian Premier League season.

Gross was hailed as a hero by Zamalek's passionate fans when he led the team to their first African title in 16 years after they beat Morocco's RS Berkane on penalties to win the African Confederation Cup last month.

However, their celebrations were cut a short a few days later when Zamalek failed to make the most of a slip-up by league challengers Ahly after they were held to a 1-1 draw by El-Entag El-Harby on Thursday, having wasted a handful of clear-cut chances.

While the stumble by no means ends their hopes of winning the title for the first time in four years, it prompted firebrand chairman Mortada Mansour to show Gross the door, saying the Swiss was no longer fit for the job.

Mansour is known for hiring and firing managers in quick succession and the mere fact that Gross has lasted almost an entire season shows that he has done something special.

Zamalek turned for a familiar caretaker boss in Khaled Galal, who also took charge in the latter stage of last season to lead the White Knights to the Egypt Cup title before beating Ahly in a dead-rubber after their Cairo nemesis were already crowned league champions.

His first match will be against relegation-threatened Haras El-Hodoud in Alexandria on Monday, with Zamalek ill-affording to drop more points in one of the most exciting two-horse duels in recent years.

Ahly lead the table with 74 points, seven ahead of Zamalek who have two matches in hand. With both sides set to meet in a potential title-deciding derby in the final game of the season, Zamalek have destiny in their own hands as they will wrap up the title should they win their remaining four matches.

Galal could give a chance to some forgotten men who were snubbed by Gross, including diminutive winger Ahmed Madbouli and playmaker Ayman Hefni, who was one of the team's main stars when they last won the title in 2015.

Al-Hodoud lie 13th in the table with 37 points, three ahead of 16th-placed Petrojet who occupy the last relegation spot. A draw against Zamalek will be enough to ensure their survival.

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