Shaky African starts

Alaa Abdel-Ghani , Tuesday 21 Feb 2023

In the continent’s Champions League, Egypt’s two biggest football clubs did not get off on the right foot. What’s worse, bigger tests lie ahead, reports Alaa Abdel-Ghani

Ahly vs Al-Hilal
Ahly suffered their first loss in their away match in the group stage of the African Champions League to Sudan s Al-Hilal

Ahly will host bitter rivals South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns on Saturday 25 February after the Egyptian club lost their opening game in the group stage of the African Champions League.

Egypt’s other powerhouse club Zamalek are to visit four-time champions Esperance of Tunisia on the same day in what could prove to be crucial showdowns.

On Saturday last week, Ahly went down to a 1-0 defeat to Sudan’s Al-Hilal in the Cairo club’s opening group game of the tournament.

Makabi Lilepo’s stunning free kick in the 53rd minute sailed over the flailing body of goalkeeper Mohamed Al-Shennawi for the game’s only goal. It looked like the shot was actually a cross but Al-Hilal will take the three points.

Al-Shennawi might have thought of donning a cap because of the sun’s glare. He had been using his hand more than once to try to block the rays.

The Sudanese outfit nearly doubled their advantage when they were awarded a penalty 13 minutes later but Lilepo, of the DR Congo, was denied by Al-Shennawi.

Ahly are the record 10-times winner of the tournament but the loss was their third in a row after two consecutive defeats to Real Madrid and Flamengo in the recently concluded Club World Cup in Morocco.

The loss in Omdurman left Ahly with no points and in third place in Group C. Sundowns are first with a perfect six points from two games. Al-Hilal are second with three points from two matches. Coton Sport of Cameroon are, like Ahly, last with no points after playing once.

Sundowns are Ahly’s worst nightmare. They thrashed the Egyptians 5-1 in 2019 in the quarter-finals of the tournament and beat Ahly twice last year in the group stage.

In Group D of the same tournament, Zamalek have collected just one point from two games, losing 1-0 to Algeria’s Belouizdad in Egypt 1-0 before battling to a scoreless draw away to Al-Merrikh of Sudan on Friday.

The game with Al-Merrikh was played in Libya’s Benina Martyrs Stadium because Al-Merrikh’s pitch in Sudan did not meet the standards of the Confederation of African Football (CAF).

Zamalek have had a rough year, winning only twice in 11 games in all competitions since the start of 2023.

They are tied with Al-Merrikh on one point each in the Champions League. Esperance lead the group with six points followed by Belouizdad with three. All four teams have played two matches each.

Zamalek have won the tournament five times but the last was in 2002. In the last two editions, they have been knocked out in the group stage.

Reigning champions Wydad of Morocco, who beat Ahly 2-0 in the final last year, are last in Group A with no points after one game. Angolan side Petro de Luanda and JS Kabylie of Algeria are tied with four points each after two games.  

In Group C of the group stage of the second tier African football club competition, the Confederation Cup, in an all-Egyptian affair, Future and Pyramids played to a 1-1 draw on Sunday in Group C in Al-Salam Stadium in Cairo.

Pyramids fullback Mohamed Hamdi put his side ahead in the seventh minute, however, Future’s Ghanam Mohamed equalised nine minutes after the break.

Both teams started their group stage with draws. Pyramids were held to a 2-2 draw with FAR Rabat of Morocco at the Air Defence Stadium in Cairo last week. Future drew 1-1 away at ASKO de Kara of Togo.

On Sunday, FAR Rabat pummelled ASKO 5-1 to go top of the group standings with four points after two games. Future and Pyramids are at two points each, also after two matches. ASKO is last with one point.

Pyramids reached the Confed final in 2020 against RS Berkane of Morocco before losing.

Future will meet FAR Rabat twice in succession starting next week while Pyramids should have an easy time with ASKO Kara.

The four Egyptian teams in the two African competitions are atop the Egyptian league standings. As of Sunday, Ahly were first with 37 points from 15 games. Ahly’s first-year coach Marcel Koller of Switzerland has steered the team to 11 wins, four draws and no losses.

Pyramids and Future are tied with 37 points but from 18 games apiece.

Zamalek, the defending champions, sit fourth with 32 points from 18 games. The Egypt league comprises 18 teams in a 34-season schedule.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 23 February, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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