|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
25 April - 1 May 2002
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Higher and higherIsmaili are inching close to the domestic soccer crown, writes Alaa Shahine
Ismaili extended their lead in the Egyptian soccer league to six points following a hard-fought 1-0 road victory over bottom of the table Sohag. Defending champions Zamalek slumped to a surprise 2-1 defeat against the Arab Contractors.
Though surrounded by Misri defenders, Bibo managed to get out of trouble photo: Amr Gamal
After 19 games and with six matches left, Ismaili are atop the standings on 49 points, five ahead of second-placed Ahli and six ahead of Zamalek.
Ismaili's victory came courtesy of a lone strike by Amr Fahim midway through the second half as the yellow-and-blue continued their quest for their first league title since 1990 and the third in their history.
Speaking to reporters after the match, Ismaili coach Mohsen Saleh said there was still plenty of work left. "We are still facing close competition from Ahli and Zamalek and we have tough matches ahead, including clashes against Ahli, Baladiyet El-Mehalla and Ghazl El-Suez," he said. "We are on the right track but we need to win our upcoming matches to clinch the title."
Saleh perhaps need not have mentioned Zamalek, whose hopes of defending the title were dealt a heavy blow on Saturday against the Contractors in Cairo. The defeat extended Zamalek's winless streak to three games after they were brought down from the summit two weeks ago with a 4-3 defeat against Ismaili. Their woes were compounded with a 3-3 home tie against relegation- threatened Sohag. The series of poor results forced the club's board to sack assistant coach Helmi Toulan and to suspend defenders Medhat Abdel-Hadi and Hossam Abdel-Moneim. The board appointed trainer Ahmed Ramzi as assistant coach, a decision that led to the resignation of trainer Ashraf Qassem who claimed he was discriminated against.
Against the Contractors, Zamalek started the match with all guns blazing in search of an early settlement of the affair. Skipper Hazim Emam cut in from the left side and sent an inch-perfect cross to Walid Salah who headed over the bar.
The hosts, on the other hand, took advantage of Zamalek's weak flanks and tormented the defence with counterattacks orchestrated by Nigerian midfielder Robert Akwari.
The Contractors' efforts yielded fruit in the 35th minute when Akwari, on loan from Ahli, connected with defender Mohamed Ouda who burst into the left flank and whipped a cross to Sameh Youssef who fired home, leaving goalkeeper Mohamed Abdel-Monsef stranded.
The goal spurred a wave of frenzied, at times desperate, Zamalek attacks, one of which came close to levelling three minutes before the break. Mohamed Abdel-Wahed made a solo run from the midfield, danced past two defenders and seemed certain to score, only for his effort to go wide.
The miss only galvanised Zamalek as the second half started with their backs against the wall. But the hosts doubled the lead when Haitham Hussein made a probing run from the right side and set Mamdouh Abdel-Hai clear as the midfielder guided the ball home with ease.
Zamalek fought for a comeback but were denied by brilliant goalkeeping from Tarek Suleiman, who tipped away from Tarek El-Said just minutes before Hossam Hassan reduced the arrears when he converted an Ahmed Saleh cross as the veteran marksman continued to lead the goal scorers list with 14 goals.
One day later, Ahli took advantage of Zamalek's defeat and moved into second place following a 1-0 victory over Misri on Sunday at Cairo Stadium.
Striker Ahmed Belal continued his scoring ways and netted the match's sole goal four minutes into the kick-off after a clever break-through by Khaled Bibo and Reda Shehata.
Shehata warded off a tackle and set Bibo on the left flank. The striker, who has come into his own this year, sent a perfect cross to Belal who found no difficulty in heading in his fifth goal in the last three matches.
Ahli had the upper hand in terms of possession and chances created, as Bibo brought the best out of Misri's goalkeeper, Amr Abdel-Salam, twice with close efforts by Bibo.
Talking to reporters after the match, Ahli's Portuguese coach Manuel Jose had nothing but praise for his team. "They all did a good job and I am happy we got the three points to leapfrog over Zamalek," he said.
Ahli can widen the gap with their cross-town rivals should they win their game in hand, against Ittihad next month.
Ghazl El-Mehalla made Mansoura's situation -- in 13th place -- all the more precarious with a 1-0 home victory, while Ittihad snatched an all- important 1-0 win against fourth-placed Tersana in Alexandria.
In other encounters, Baladia got by Qanah 2-1 away from home and Goldi nicked Ghazl El-Suez 1-0.
Recommend this page© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved
Letter from the Editor
|WEEKLY ONLINE: www.ahram.org.eg/weekly
Updated every Saturday at 11.00 GMT, 2pm local time