Preview: Zamalek aim to offer reassuring message to fans after turbulent weeks

Ahram Online , Friday 11 Dec 2020

Zamalek kick off the Egyptian Premier League with a tough match against Arab Contractors in Cairo on Saturday


Zamalek will be looking to give a reassuring message to their anxious supporters when they kick off the new season on Saturday after a turbulent few weeks cast doubts over whether they would be able to challenge for honours.

The White Knights open their Egyptian Premier League campaign against Arab Contractors with the woes of last season hanging over their heads after they finished without any major trophy despite boasting a star-studded squad.

They gave up on their league hopes so early last term, eventually finishing second behind champions Ahly. They also lost to their bitter rivals in a dramatic African Champions League final that broke the hearts of their fans last month before making matters worse with an Egypt Cup exit in the semis.

Problems continued to persist even after the disappointing season came to an end, with the sports ministry suspending Zamalek's entire board of directors over financial irregularities and appointing an interim three-man committee to manage the club.

The committee, which will stay at the helm for a year, is struggling to keep hold of the team's stars after complaining of cash shortage, saying the club owes state institutions more than 1 billion Egyptian pounds ($63.6 million) in arrears.

The mounting problems worried Zamalek's supporters that their team could fall even further in the new term. The team will have to make a good start to the season to quell the fears.

"We have to start with a win and turn the page on past events," Zamalek's Portuguese coach Jaime Pacheco, who was given a vote of confidence by the new board, was quoted as telling his players by the club's official website.

Arab Contractors are likely to prove a tough nut to crack. They finished fourth in the league last season and kicked off their African Confederation Cup campaign with a resounding 10-1 aggregate win over Djibouti's Arta Solar -- a club record -- in the preliminary round last week.

Zamalek's influential defender Mahmoud Hamdi and deep-lying forward Youssef Ibrahim, who missed the Champions League final defeat after contracting COVID-19, are available for selection after recovering from the virus. However, it's not clear whether Pacheco will field them as they remain short of match fitness.

Tunisian midfielder Ferjani Sassi is back after serving a six-match domestic suspension while Moroccan forward Hamid Ahadad is also in contention after returning from a loan spell with Casablanca-based club Raja.

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