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Tuesday, 27 July 2021

2020 sports Yearender: Zamalek's promising season unravels at crucial stage

In a series of stories, Ahram Online compiles the remarkable sporting events of 2020

Ahram Online , Sunday 27 Dec 2020
(Photo: Al-Ahram)

Zamalek started 2020 in style, claiming two minor titles in a sweet February. But the end of the year still left them with a bitter taste after they failed to win any major trophies, having been pipped by perennial rivals Ahly.

Things looked promising for the White Knights when they displayed a devastating counter-attacking game to down Champions League winners Esperance 3-1 in the African Super Cup in Doha on 14 February.

Two goals from standout performer Achraf Bencharki and a header from forward Youssef Ibrahim helped Zamalek win their fourth African Super Cup and their first since 2003.

One week later, Zamalek faced Cairo foes Ahly in the Egyptian Super Cup.

After a tight game ended goalless, Zamalek prevailed 4-3 on penalties to win lift their second trophy in a week.

There was still room for more joy in February as Zamalek overcame Esperance again in a two-legged Champions League quarterfinal.

Esperance, winners of the Champions League in 2018 and 2019, set about taking revenge from their Super Cup defeat and they took an early lead in the first leg in Cairo

However, Bencharki shone again to help Zamalek come from behind and earn a 3-1 advantage. In the second leg in Rades, Zamalek conceded an early goal but held firm to sneak to the semis with a 3-2 aggregate win.

Having virtually lost hopes of competing for the Egyptian Premier League title at the time, their entire focus was on how to deliver the team's first Champions League title since 2002.

They suffered a sudden setback after French coach Patrice Carteron, who perfected Zamalek's counter-attacking strategy, handed in his resignation out of the blue, leaving them in a delicate situation.

Zamalek moved quickly to bring in Jaime Pacheco as a replacement, with the Portuguese taking over for a second spell. He was mainly appointed because of his defensive-minded strategy that suited the way the team used to play under his predecessor.

They passed their first tough test under Pacheco, defeating Morocco's Raja 4-1 on aggregate in the Champions League semis to set up a mouthwatering all-Egyptian final against Ahly.

But in arguably one of the most important fixtures in their history, Zamalek's hearts were broken after they conceded a late goal to lose 2-1. To rub salts into their wounds, they also exited the Egypt Cup at the semi-final stage after losing to Talae El-Geish, missing out on their last chance to win a major title this year.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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