|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
4 - 10 January 2001
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
On second thoughts
Fireworks in much of the world ushered in the new year. Egyptian soccer had a bang of its own as derby rivals Ahli and Zamalek battled for the right to be called the best African club of the century. Ahli had won the accolade but the decision was apparently reversed, giving Zamalek the honour -- and Ahli a new year's hangover.
When added up, calculations made by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) had Ahli, the winner of six African titles, the best football team on the continent these past 100 years. Zamalek was deemed runner-up even though it garnered seven continental crowns.
Zamalek and its supporters failed to understand the mathematics. The team promptly made its feelings known to the CAF and FIFA, the world's governing body in the sport. The protest charged the CAF with being biased, particularly since one of its Egyptian members is a well-known Ahli supporter. CAF vehemently denied the accusation, claiming its decision was based not just on championships won but on how many finals, semi-finals and quarter-finals a club had reached in tournaments.
While Zamalek was complaining, Ahli was entertaining thoughts of how it would celebrate its continental victory. Ideas bandied about included flying in Real Madrid -- recently chosen the best club Europe ever saw -- and Maradona and Pele -- who recently had a spat of their own as to who was the greatest player ever -- as guests of honour.
Ahli's bubble burst, however, when FIFA appeared to have reversed the CAF and selected Zamalek instead as No 1 based on what many saw as the only logical conclusion: Zamalek was better because it had collected more titles.
FIFA's news appeared on a Web site on the Internet which mysteriously disappeared just two days after its announcement. Apparently the site was fake, but tell that to Zamalek. The news crowned what was already an outstanding year. In December the club won the continent's Cup Winners' Cup and found itself in the unusual position of being atop the premier league standings following years of ending up in second place.
To be sure, FIFA's official site never mentioned anything about a reversal of decision and FIFA is well-known for rarely interfering in CAF's affairs. But some in Egypt cried foul and accused FIFA and CAF of conspiring against Ahli. Others suggested the fake site was meant to drive a wedge between the two clubs.
Why on earth would anybody outside of Egypt stoop to such scheming is anybody's guess. With that in mind, it would be best for both clubs and their supporters to bury the hatchet, at least until the confusion is cleared up. For now, all Egyptians should be proud that two of their clubs were selected the top African clubs of the century. That is an accomplishment in itself; the battle over who is No 1 should not overshadow it.
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