Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
14 - 20 December 2000
Issue No.512
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Current issue | Previous issue | Site map

On par with the greats

By Abeer Anwar

Zamalek
Zamalek's Abdel-Hamid Bassiouni's in an attempt on goal
Despite going down 2-0 Zamalek hoisted the African Cup Winners' Cup after a nerve-racking final that turned the winner from merely good to majestically grand.

Against Canon Yaounde of Cameroon the Cairo side took a three-goal lead into the second leg of the final. Watched by a capacity 60,000 crowd at Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium, the Egyptians finished a 4-3 winner on aggregate.

Victory brings the Nelson Mandela Cup back to Egypt after a seven-year absence and qualifies Zamalek for the African Super Cup and the world club championship in Spain next year.

Cameroon's champs played with an attacking strategy throughout the match in the hope of scoring the three goals they needed in order to win on aggregate.

No club had overcome a three-goal final deficit in the 25-year competition, and the Egyptians appeared unruffled until Jean-Calvin Batang gave Canon a 2-0 lead with 60 seconds of normal time left.

Ivory Coast referee Sinko Zeli added three minutes of stoppage time and Zamalek endured several anxious moments before becoming the third Egyptian club after Arab Contractors and Ahli to lift the trophy.

Widely travelled German coach Otto Pfister instructed Zamalek to defend its lead on a bumpy pitch and goalkeeper Abdel-Wahid El-Sayed was rarely under pressure during a tame first half.

The breakthrough came after 71 minutes when Jean Chameni scored as Canon sought a return to the glory days of the late 1970s when it won the Champions Cup twice and Cup Winners Cup once within three years.

Striker Abdel-Latif El-Domani almost washed Canon's hopes down the drain early in the game when he took advantage of his speed over a Canon defender, and shot the ball in the upper right corner, but his attempt was saved by an agile keeper.

Despite Canon's domination of possession, Zamalek's tight defensive line prevented any attempts at scoring.

Canon only had one scoring opportunity in the first half, but the ball was shot wide from close range.

Things began to change when Canon scored their first goal with 15 minutes to go. The goal was a long-range effort which skimmed past the tightly packed defense, and found its way into Zamalek's net on the far right side of El-Sayed, who threw himself short of the ball.

Canon's spirit rocketed after the goal, and their determination to score a second was greater than ever.

Otto Pfister Zamalek
A wreath for Pfister (left); the players and the joy of winning (photos: AFP)

With five minutes left the ball found its way into Zamalek's net once again. Zamalek's defender Hossam Abdel-Moneim cleared a high ball in the penalty area, but the ball hit another Zamalek player in the face, and deflected back to the unsuspecting Zamalek keeper. The ball hit the post and bounced in front of the goal line. A Canon striker beat Abdel-Wahid El-Sayed to the ball after a foot race and rammed it home.

With only extra time to be played, Canon desperately attacked looking for the goal that would have put them down in history. But time ran out. Instead, the victory earned Zamalek a ticket to the second world club championships in Spain.

Over 6,000 Zamalek supporters watched the match, played 30 minutes before iftar Cairo time on a giant screen in the club's indoor hall. The same fans partied late into the night, the late hours kept in Ramadan helping them keep the celebrations alive up until dawn. On hand at Cairo Airport on Monday morning was Minister of Youth and Sports Aliyiddin Hilal to greet the team. Another gesture of support came from President Hosni Mubarak who sent a message of congratulations. "I am very proud of your performance," it read. "All of Egypt congratulates you for this great achievement that has raised Egypt's name up high on the international scene." Prime Minister Atef Ebeid sent a similar message.

The win was worth $1 million to Zamalek, the money to be paid by the African federation. Each player also received an immediate $10,000 bonus courtesy of the club.

Canon will receive much less and failed to add to their impressive African portfolio. It had reached three Cup Winners' Cup finals while the best previous showing by their rivals was a semi-final place 24 years ago. A Canon team including greats like goalkeeper Thomas 'Black Spider' N'kono, midfielder Theophile 'Doctor' Abega and striker Jean-Manga Onguene won the Champions Cup twice and the Cup Winners' Cup once between 1978 and 1980.

Zamalek, named after a cosmopolitan suburb of Cairo near the Nile river, can lay claim to being the greatest African club, having won the African Champions League a record four times. They also won the African Super Cup -- an annual clash between the winners of the Champions League and Cup Winners' Cup -- on the two occasions they were involved.

Victory for Zamalek also presented the chance for Pfister to rehabilitate his reputation in African soccer. It was Pfister who took the Ghanaian under-17 team to the world championship in Italy nine years ago -- only the second title for the continent in a FIFA junior competition. But he was on the losing side with Ghana's senior team at the 1992 African Nations Cup finals and left under a cloud soon afterwards to pursue opportunities in Asia and the Middle East.

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