23 - 29 March 2000
Issue No. 474
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Club, not country<
The start of the new millennium was anything but auspicious for Egyptian football. The national team failed to recapture its African title and the Olympic squad, though with still a mathematical chance, have little hope of getting to Sydney. But at the club level the picture has been vastly different as the country's three major teams emerged with more than decent results at the start of major African competitions.
In the first round of the Cup Winners Cup, Zamalek nearly booked its qualification ticket after snatching a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Young Africans of Tanzania away from home on Saturday. In spite of Zamalek's attacking start and its domination of the midfield, Young Africans, against all the odds, opened the scoring in the 17th minute. Nevertheless, Zamalek's players had the upper hand in the first half and wasted several opportunities to level. Its troubles were compounded at the end of the first half when the referee ignored a crystal clear spot kick after Abdel-Halim Ali was obstructed in the penalty area. In the 65th minute, Abdel-Hamid Basyouni tied the game and relentless attacking could have given Zamalek the win. Still, it needs only a scoreless draw in Cairo a week from now to advance to the second round.
On the same day, in Ismailia, Ismaili blew away Al-Mehalla of Libya 5-1 in the CAF Cup as Nigerian striker Otaka scored a hat-trick. Vying to become the first Egyptian team to win the CAF -- Africa's newest championship -- Ismaili started scoring from the word go and never let up, as Otaka hit for two headers and capitalised on a goalkeeping blunder for the third. Two more goals sealed the victory beyond doubt. In between, the Libyans managed to avoid a whitewash. The rest of the match was dedicated to Brazilian-like passing as stadium music of the simsimiya, a string instrument primarily used in Suez Canal cities, replaced the South American samba.
A good omen was found in the goal spree. In 1969, the year Ismaili became the first Egyptian club to win an African club trophy, the Canal team defeated Al-Ittihad of Libya by an 8-0 aggregate in the first round en route to the Champions League trophy. It is still too early to tell how far Ismaili will advance in the CAF but the 5-1 score should be more than enough to see it though in the second leg in Libya.
The Champions League title has not been in Ahli's hands since 1987 and the extended hiatus, cry Ahli fans, has gone on long enough. The Egyptian club began its quest to end the drought by downing Tusker of Kenya 3-1 in Cairo. Despite the result which appears cushioned enough, it was hardly a vintage performance by Ahli, league champions of Egypt six years running.
By and large, Ahli dominated the match, coming as no surprise considering their opponents were first-time participants in the tournament. However, field control failed to materialise into any real scoring opportunities. A free kick and two half-chances produced Ahli's three goals while Tusker levelled 1-1 in the first half. The match saw nearly one-way traffic, but Ahli failed to produce the number of goals or the style of play predicted.
After the match, Ahli's German coach Reiner Tsobil said he was satisfied -- with the results, not the standard. "The performance was rather disappointing, especially in the last 20 minutes," Tsobil told the Weekly. Tsobil put the blame on the Olympic team which has several key Ahli players who joined the club only four days before the match. "The [Olympic] players were away from the team most of the time and did not have the chance to practice on my tactics."
Tsobil lashed out at the lack of organisation in Egyptian football. "There must be more coordination between the federation and the local teams," he said.
Ahli seems organised enough to handle Tusker in Kenya even though the dilapidated state of stadiums and fields in many African countries is something which almost always favours the host.