4 - 10 November 1999
Issue No. 454
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Ahli on top of the tableBy Abeer Anwar
Ahli's men and women table tennis players smashed their way to the 11th Arab Clubs Winners championship. The women blanked Jordan's Al-Hussein 3-0 while the men disposed of downtown city rivals Zamalek 3-1. The victory allowed the famed Egyptian club to kill two more birds with one... ping pong ball. The club's men and women have now qualified for the first ever world clubs table tennis championship to be held in China in May next year. The club's victory also meant keeping the Arab title for the eighth consecutive year -- a record. Ahli's Sherif Diaa crowned the festivities by winning the best player award.
Ahli's female stars paved the way by beating Jordan's Al-Hussein three matches to nil to win the title. An exciting first match saw Ahli's Bassant Othman defeat Al-Hussein's Russian player, Titania El-Naggar, 2-0 in the first encounter. Although El-Naggar, 31 and a professional player, was more experienced, Othman had the home crowd behind her, in addition to powerful drives, several of which El-Naggar could not return. In the second match, teammate Shaimaa Abdel-Aziz overcame Hadeer Awad. Gihan El-Sayed put the icing on the cake after brushing aside her opponent 2-1.
The famed football rivalry between Ahli and Zamalek extended into this tournament as well after both teams qualified for the final. In the semi-finals, Ahli defeated Kuwait's Al-Jahraa and Zamalek beat Qatar's Al-Arabi. Indoor hall No 2 at Cairo Stadium was packed with the fans of both teams in anticipation of a hotly contested final. Ahmed Saleh of Zamalek (looking for its first Arab title) got the club to a winning start after beating Ahli's Amr Reda 2-0. Zamalek's Ashraf Sobhi briefly followed in his teammate's footsteps after taking the first set 21-16. But Ahli's Sherif El-Saket soon turned the tables to level the series at one victory apiece.
In the penultimate game, Diaa blew away Ashraf Helmi 2-0 to send the series to a decisive fourth game. Ahli's Sherif El-Saket beat Zamalek's Ahmed Saleh to win the first set 21-14. In the second set, with El-Saket leading 20-18, Saleh threw his racket on the ground in disgust following a weak return that failed to clear the net. The referee had no choice but to disqualify Saleh, who had dissented once before during the game, thus giving the victory to El-Saket and Ahli.
"I'm very happy that my team has the honour of participating in the first World Club championship," Ahli coach Ahmed El-Dawalti said. "I was impressed by the team's performance and their fighting spirit. Zamalek was very strong but Ahli's experience won the day."
In the over-35 category of the competition, Lebanon's Marwan Barzari took first place, Egypt's Adel Fadl came second and teammate Ma'mun Fahmi third.
Tunisia was chosen by the Arab Table Tennis Federation to host the next championship.