14 - 20 October 1999
Issue No. 451
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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On the African trailBy Nashwa Abdel-Tawab
With a victory and a draw, Ahli and Misri got a little closer to their respective African titles while Zamalek took a few steps backward.
Ahli beat Ghana's Hearts of Oak 2-0 in Cairo Stadium in a match it had to win to stay alive in the African Clubs League championship. Coupled with the loss of Morocco's Al-Ragaa, the front-runners in the four-team group, to Shooting Stars of Nigeria, Ahli's win gave the club a new lease of life. The Egyptian squad, which had seen its African hopes all but dashed following two successive losses, now has six points from four matches while Al-Ragaa stayed put with nine points. Two matches, including a titanic clash between the two in Morocco, remain.
The victory came at a time when Ahli's fortunes were sinking rapidly and not just on the continent. Having lost in the semi-finals of the Arab Champions Cup a fortnight ago on home ground, the six-time winners of the local league had appeared headed for a long season following an overhaul which has seen at least half the team changed. Dire predictions about the club's future abounded. In truth, Ahli has yet to reach the form that propelled it to the top of Egyptian football and won for it the African crown in 1982 and 1987. Compounding the loss of experienced players to Europe has been the off form of forwards Ali Maher and Alaa Ibrahim, injuries to a host of players led by star striker Hossam Hassan, plus the suspension of mid-field general Hisham Hanafi. Their replacements, young workhorses full of enthusiasm but lacking in experience, have yet to find the missing formula which would allow them to work as a unit.
Mohamed Farouk, a rookie and one of the bright spots in Ahli's otherwise dim past few weeks, opened the scoring against Hearts of Oak in the fifth minute with a well-timed snatch of the ball. The talented Walid Salaheddin closed out the score in the 55th minute with a deft left foot shot taken from an acute angle. Ahli dominated most of the match, a far cry from the first-leg encounter in Ghana which Hearts won 2-1.
Ahli's German manager Reiner Tsobil said he was satisfied with the victory although news of his father's death dampened the festivities.
A morale-booster for Ahli
In Tunisia, in two first-leg encounters, Misri and Zamalek played hard-fought contests in the semi-finals of the African Cup Winners Cup and the African Confederation Cup respectively. Misri held Al-Afriqi to a scoreless draw while Zamalek went down 2-0 to Al-Najm Al-Saheli. Around 150 Port Said fans, as opposed to 12,000 Tunisian spectators, travelled to Tunisia to cheer Misri on in a one-sided affair which saw the hosts lose a penalty kick in the dying minutes. Misri goalkeeper Hassan Nasr was perfect in the net and deserved his $400 bonus from the club. His teammates pocketed $200 each. The return match, to be played in Port Said in two weeks, should see Misri through to the final, an achievement of note for a club which is appearing for the first time in an African championship.
After beating Ismaili and Misri in two away games, Zamalek was flying high coming into Tunisia. But the club's wings were soon clipped as Brazilian Santos Silvia scored twice thanks mainly to the poorly timed positioning of goalkeeper Abdel-Wahed El-Sayed. Zamalek's manager Mahmoud Abu Regela said he was optimistic about the return match in Cairo and his team's chances of recuperation.