Preview: Plenty of promises as Egyptian league kicks off

Ahram Online , Saturday 21 Sep 2019

Ahly v Zamalek
Ahly, Zamalek are expected to battle it out for the title in traditional two-horse race (Photo: Reuters)

The Egyptian Premier League kicks off on Saturday amid plenty of promises as the interim leaders of the Football Association (EFA) vow to organize a trouble-free competition after a disastrous last season.

The EFA is temporarily run by a three-man committee after former chief Hany Abo Rida and his entire board of directors stepped down following Egypt's embarrassing last 16 exit at the African Cup of Nations on home soil in July.

The new chairman, Amr El-Ganainy, insisted that rules "will apply to everyone" as his predecessor was criticized for being lenient with high-profile clubs, including Cairo giants Ahly and Zamalek.

Abo Rida also came under fire for too many disruptions to the premier domestic competition, which was played over the course of a whole year last season due to matches being frequently postponed.

The repeated delays, which were mainly down to the continental commitments of the likes of Ahly and Zamalek as well as Egypt's national team duties, had clubs fuming over not being able to have adequate time to rest between seasons.

The EFA's interim board got off to a promising start when, in an unusual move in Egyptian football, it revealed the full fixtures of the first half of the season, vowing not to make any exceptional alterations to the schedule.

El-Ganainy also addressed the concerns of most clubs over refereeing by vowing to introduce the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system in the second half of the season.

Two-horse race

On the pitch, holders Ahly and perennial challengers Zamalek are likely to battle it out for the title in a traditional two-horse race, with Pyramids FC expecting to challenge for a top-four spot.

Pyramids, who spent big in the summer of 2018 after being brought by wealthy Saudi owner Turki Al-Sheikh, briefly looked like genuine title challengers last season, only to falter in the latter stages.

They have been quiet in the transfer window this summer under new Emirati investor Salem Al-Shamsi, and their weakened squad was exposed as Zamalek ruthlessly beat them 3-0 in the Egypt Cup final earlier this month.

Zamalek made a number of high-profile signings as they seek to dethrone Ahly and win their first league trophy since 2015, bringing in the likes of Moroccan duo Achraf Bencharki and Mohamed Ounajem, both the stars of Wydad Casablanca's 2017 African Champions League triumph.

Although Ahly were less active in the transfer window, they still reinforced their roster by signing the likes of Enppi playmaker Magdi Afsha, Ismaily defender Mahmoud Metwalli and Malian defensive midfielder Aliou Dieng.

The Red Devils made a statement of intent by beating Zamalek 3-2 in the Egyptian Super Cup on Friday -- the season's curtain raiser.

They led 3-0 after producing an enterprising first-half display, only for Zamalek to score two second-half goals and threaten to stage a remarkable comeback.

The exciting duel suggests that we might be in for another interesting league competition, similar to last season's race which went down to the wire as Ahly completed a remarkable comeback to snatch a fourth straight title.

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