Ahly’s cup abroad

Alaa Abdel-Ghani , Tuesday 12 Mar 2024

The football powerhouse club beat cross-town rivals Zamalek to capture the Egypt Cup in Saudi Arabia, the first time the championship was held in another country, reports Alaa Abdel-Ghani





In the first football cup final to be held out of Egypt, Ahly were crowned winners of the championship for a record-extending 39th time after late goals from midfielders Imam Ashour and Mohamed Afsha secured a 2-0 victory over bitter rivals Zamalek in Friday’s final in Riyadh.
A capacity crowd of 25,000 at the Al-Awwal Stadium witnessed a tight derby clash, the most famous in the region, which remained goalless until the 84th minute.
In a game which rarely lifted itself above mediocrity, substitute Afsha played a clever pass to Ashour who struck the ball with a first-time volley with his shin into the back of the net.
Very muscular Brazilian referee Anderson Daronco initially disallowed the goal for offside but after a lengthy VAR inspection, the decision was overturned and the goal stood. The right leg of Zamalek’s defender Ahmed Fattouh kept Ashour, a former Zamalek player a year ago, onside.
A minute later, Afsha sealed the win with a counter-attack led by Marwan Ateya. This time Ashour was the provider, squaring to Afsha whose low effort from outside of the box beat Mohamed Awwad.

Defending champion Ahly not only took the cup but also claimed the substantial $950,000 in prize money, the most lucrative of the championship to date. The standard prize money for the Egypt Cup, as determined by the Egyptian Football Association, is LE1.5 million for the winner and LE1 million for the runner-up.
Ashour picked up $50,000 for best player.
Fans who accurately predicted the match result had the chance to win $60,000 as Saudi Arabia flexes its oil wealth muscle.

“There were times when we weren’t at our best, but at Ahly, we never gave up,” Ashour, 26, told Egyptian TV after the match. ”We played for the full 90 minutes, and tonight we managed to pull it off and make our fans happy.”
The historic final marked the first time the Egypt Cup was contested outside of Egypt, with Saudi Arabia, quickly becoming a global sporting centre, playing host to the 91st edition of the event.

The win saw Ahly complete a 2022-23 treble as Marcel Koller’s side also clinched the Egyptian Premier League title and African Champions League last season.
“I will always maintain my drive, and I will forever crave winning titles,” Koller said after the game. “While achieving seven titles since taking charge of Ahly is remarkable, I consistently motivate the players to conquer all the championships we compete in,” added the Swiss tactician.
The 63-year old coach took over Ahly in August 2022 and claimed seven titles including the African Champions League and reclaiming the league title from Zamalek for the first time after two seasons.

Zamalek’s new Portuguese manager Jose Gomes, aboard since only February, was leading his team for only the fourth game.
Ahly were defending the title after beating Pyramids FC 2-1 last year. Zamalek last won the cup in 2021 when they beat Ahly 2-1.
Zamalek had won the last three cup clashes against Ahly, which all came in the finals.
The Egypt Cup is Egypt’s oldest football tournament, and is the oldest club competition in the rest of Africa and the Arab world. The first team to win the trophy was Zamalek in 1922.
Ahly have now won the most Egypt Cups, with 39. Zamalek are second with 28.
Invited guests to the game included the Brazilian Ronaldo and former Roma attacking midfielder Francesco Totti. Both now 47, Ronaldo, winner of two Ballon d’Or awards and the World Cup twice, and Totti, a 2006 World Cup champion, helped present Friday’s trophy.
Ahly and Zamalek fans sat on either side of the stadium, although it looked like Ahly spectators were the majority.
Hardly any Saudi fans were present in the stadium; white thobes, the traditional attire worn by Saudi men, were not visible.

One Saudi, though, who stood out in the stands was Turki Al-Sheikh, the chairman of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority. He could not conceal his angst when Ahly’s first goal needed a VAR check but was thrilled when it was counted, his eyes lighting up behind sunglasses. Al-Sheikh used to be the owner of the Egyptian club Pyramids from 2018 to 2019.
José Mourinho, among the greatest managers of all time, provided some of the studio commentary in the stadium. The Portuguese, out of a job since January after he was sacked by AS Roma following a poor run of results, said it would have been fairer for the game to go to extra time.

“But the big teams have something magical and exceptional there, some call it luck and some call it experience, but usually when big teams reach crucial moments, they win,” Mourinho said. “Zamalek played a great match and Ahly managed to score.”
Egyptian football announcer Medhat Shalabi provided the play-by-play and newspaper sports journalist Hassan Al-Mistikawi the colour commentary in a rare duo combination behind the microphone for televised Egyptian matches.

Ashour was shown a yellow card for taking off his jersey to celebrate his goal. There are players who shun revelling in a goal scored against their old team but Ashour had no such compunction.
But he did add a message of respect to the loser: “Tough luck to Zamalek.”


* A version of this article appears in print in the 14 March, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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