Red or white?
Ahli and Zamalek clash tonight in a derby up for grabs. Mohamed El-Sayed sees what's at stake
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As they have done so many times in the past, Ahli and Zamalek face-off once more. Above, Emad Mitab of Ahli against Baladiyet Al-Mehalla
The famed Ahli-Zamalek derby comes to town tonight, raising a couple of intriguing questions along the way. Can Zamalek extend their local record unbeaten run in the national football league to 53 matches? Can Ahli end their two-year winless streak in these derby encounters? The answers will be found at the 30,000-seat Military Academy Stadium which will play host to this much-anticipated derby between the country's two most popular clubs.
The 9pm clash, the 94th in the illustrious history of the derby, is all-important for both teams. Zamalek seek to extend their unbeaten run in the national league to 53 consecutive matches. The whites have not been defeated since 8 November 2002 when they went down to the Coastal Guards in Alexandria. However, the streak could possibly end today, mirroring a similar situation in last week's English Premiership derby when Manchester United put an end to Arsenal's unbeaten streak of 49 league matches.
Ahli, who have not beaten their arch-rivals since the astonishing 6-1 hammering of 2002, view the match as a golden opportunity to wreck Zamalek's hopes for a third consecutive league title. League leaders Ahli are ahead of second- place Zamalek by four points. They signed an almost completely new team at the beginning of the season, the reds determined to restore their long lost glory days and end a four-year league crown fast. Before last season, Ahli had not gone more than three years without winning the league crown since the league's inception in 1948.
Ahli has beaten Zamalek 30 times, Zamalek has been on the winning end 24 times and there have been 39 draws.
In the sixth week, Zamalek stole a 2-1 win over Ismaili in the coastal city on Sunday to maintain their second place standing. The host team, aka the Dervishes, dominated the game from A to Z but could not translate their superiority into concrete results. Omar Gamal fired the Dervishes ahead in the 62nd minute before referee Reda El- Beltagui handed the visitors a penalty kick five minutes later. El-Beltagui, who was standing at the centre line when he gave the penalty, was not close enough to see that Walid Abdel-Latif, the player who was fouled, was clearly outside the penalty box when he fell.
Abdel-Halim Ali, the top scorer of the league with five goals, netted from the spot, giving Zamalek renewed hope.
In the 76th minute, against the run of play, Abdel-Latif, absent since last season due to a serious knee injury, delivered a header into the host's net for the winner to earn his team a crucial three points. Zamalek now have 14 points while Ismaili, undoubtedly out of competition this season, have collected only eight.
In Cairo, Ahli managed to retain their league lead but only after a nerve-wracking 1-0 win over Baladiyet Al-Mehalla. Ahli supporters were forced to wait until the 82th minute to see their team notch their only goal via the head of defender Emad El-Nahhas. Before the goal, Ahli wasted two penalty kicks, by Mohamed Abu- Treika and Colombian import Castello.
In other matches, Misri of Port Said drew 1-1 with Cement Suez; Ittihad of Alexandria won their first three points since the beginning of the season, edging Tersana 1-0; Ghazl Al-Mehalla beat Mansoura 2-1; Enppi defeated the Army 3-2; and the Coastal Guards beat Cement Assiut 2-1.