Mohamed Aboutrika of Egypt's Al Ahly celebrates after scoring his goal against Egypt's Zamalek during their CAF Champions League soccer match at the Military Stadium in Cairo (Photo: Reuters)
A late header by Mohamed Abou-Treika maintained Ahly’s supremacy in the Cairo derby, giving them a 1-0 victory over a success-starved Zamalek side in Sunday’s African Champions League clash.
The classy playmaker settled a drab affair in Ahly’s favour after making the most of some slack marking with 11 minutes remaining to put the Red Devils on top of Group B with maximum six points.
The goal put Abou-Treika, who was a peripheral figure until notching the decisive winner, on top of the Cairo derby scorers’ chart with 11 goals, one ahead of teammate Emad Meteb.
The 33-year-old will be one of Egypt’s three-over age players during the Olympic Games in London later this month.
Zamalek, who missed several key players, lie at the bottom of the group with no points after extending their winless streak against Ahly to 13 games, having last beaten their bitter rivals in an Egyptian Premier League game in 2007.
The defeat will increase pressure on beleaguered coach Hassan Shehata, who was given a vote of confidence by Zamalek’s board of directors before the game after rumours suggested that he would be shown the door.
Ghana’s Berekum Chelsea, who have four points, and DR Congo’s TP Mazembe, who have one point, played out an exciting 2-2 draw earlier in the day.
Zamalek won the last of their five Champions League titles in 2002 while Ahly won a record-breaking sixth title in 2008.
Sunday’s game was played at Cairo’s Military Academy Stadium behind closed doors due to ongoing security concerns in Egypt. The absence of fans and lack of domestic football action following the Port Said tragedy clearly affected the rhythm of the match.
Zamalek relied on the same cautious strategy they have used lately, as coach Shehata deployed three defensive midfielders to nullify the threat posed by Ahly’s talented forwards.
But recurring defensive lapses from right-back Ahmed Fathi allowed Ahly’s lively winger Walid Soliman to go to the byline more than once, whipping in some crosses which went begging.
Soliman could have opened the scoring in Ahly’s first real attack when he was found unmarked inside the area by a right-wing cross after 13 minutes but his low shot went poorly wide.
Ahly, who at times moved the ball around smoothly in an attempt to bamboozle Zamalek’s backline, wasted another chance on 30 minutes when classy playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika had a close-range shot blocked by a defender following a goal-mouth scramble.
The swift moves of Soliman and left-back Sayed Moawad in addition to some neat exchange of passes caused constant menace to Zamalek but the White Knights still managed to take advantage of that.
The darting runs of Soliman and Moawad allowed Zamalek’s right-back Ahmed Samir to expose the gaps behind them, wasting a clear-cut chance in the process.
He ran onto a long pass from Cameroonian midfielder Alexis Mendomo to break clear in the 35th minute but he dithered on the ball while attempting to round keeper Sherif Ekramy to allow Ahly’s defence to clear the danger.
Cisse was also guilty of spurning a goal-scoring chance before half-time when he scooped his shot over the crossbar following a cross from Samir.
Zamalek made a bright start to the second half, piling on pressure and almost breaking the deadlock on two occasions.
In the 58th minute, diminutive attacking midfielder Mohamed Ibrahim superbly skipped past Ahly defender Sherif Abdel-Fadil on the edge of the area but his subsequent shot went just wide of the post.
Left-back Abdel-Shafy had an even better chance one minute later when he burst clear following a lapse in concentration from Ahly’s defence but Ekramy rushed out to block his low shot.
Zamalek were punished for their wastefulness when Abou-Treika, who usually haunts the White Knights in the dying minutes, rose unmarked between two static defenders to receive a chipped cross from substitute Abdallah El-Saied with a superb header that went into the far corner of the net.
Ahly held firm in the last 10 minutes to secure a precious victory as they bid to win their seventh continental crown.
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