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Nearing the endBy Abeer Anwar
Front-runners Ahli continued their inexorable march to the league football title, beating Kouroum 2-1. Their nearest rivals, Zamalek, edged Misri 1-0, giving the second place team 49 points, nine behind the leaders. With only four games remaining, Ahli appears to be in the driver's seat and only a major collapse will prevent the club from capturing its sixth consecutive title.
It was probably Ahli's enviable situation which led the club to play one of the season's worst matches. Aside from two exceptional goals on both sides, the affair with Kouroum was as uninspiring as it gets. Whatever excitement the match saw was generated by Kouroum, languishing in 11th place with 22 points. Three opportunities to score fell the Alexandrian team's way in the first half. But against the run of play came Ahli's first goal in the 38th minute. Rookie midfielder Ibrahim Saeed picked up a loose ball and, from 30 metres, unleashed a scorcher which ended up in the corner of the goalmouth. Less than a minute later, however, Kouroum's Ashraf Khamis scored one of the season's beauties, driving a left-footer from just outside the penalty that ricocheted off the right post and bounced in.
Kouroum had the better of the second half as well but once again it was Ahli which scored. Sayed Abdel-Hafiz was clearly tripped up in the box as he was heading for goal and scored from the spot. Kouroum continued its aggressive attacking and was unlucky to level near the end when a well-placed ball skimmed dangerously close to the goal line, beyond the outstretched hands of Essam El-Hadary.
Following the match, Ahli's German coach Reiner Tsobel was not duly impressed with his club and blamed the performance on the absence of Hossam Hassan and Hadi Khashaba, two of the team's best players, because of injury. "I am also trying to change the positions of some of the players," Tsobel said. "That's why some appeared hesitant because they are not yet used to it." Salah El-Nahi, Kouroum's manager, refused to comment on his team after the match but had plenty of harsh words for the referee over the penalty.
Zamalek beat fourth place Misri in Port Said, where wins by visiting clubs are always hard to come by. Abdel-Hamid Bassiouni's beautifully-timed header in the 38th minute proved to be the winning goal for his club, who are now just marking time -- and it showed. Despite playing at home, fourth-place Misri's performance was not much better, affected perhaps by the absence of some key players, including Mowaffaq El-Basha. Despite Zamalek's almost hopeless situation regarding the league crown, Zamalek coach Farouk Gaafar was still thrilled at leaving Port Said with a win.
Misri coach Mohsin Saleh was still fuming following the encounter. "My team was better throughout the match but the poor judgment of the referee, who ignored three penalty kicks, did us in," Saleh claimed.
In other matches, Aswan beat Baladiyet Mehalla 2-1. Coupled with Spinning Mehalla's 1-0 defeat at the hands of Sharqiya, the twin beatings could mean the relegation of the two Mehalla teams. Ismaili regained third place after edging Qanah 1-0. Eighth-place Dina beat Ittihad 2-0 in an upset away victory in Alexandria, while the Arab Contractors, still in the running for the cup, drew with Mansoura, another cup hopeful, 0-0.