By hammering Ittihad of Alexandria, the Red Devils sent a strongly worded message to local and continental opponents, writes Mohamed El-Sayed
Perhaps there could not have been a better rehearsal for Ahli's crucial Champions League final against Tunisia's Etoile de Sahel than the stunning 6-0 victory over Ittihad of Alexandria in the eighth week of the local national league.
The win served several purposes for Ahli. First, they maintained their lead of the table with 24 points, two points ahead of their arch rivals, second place Zamalek, with one match in hand. Second, they extended their unbeaten streak to 51 games, and need only one more game to equal Zamalek's record in 2003. Third, they sent a stern warning to Etoile du Sahel ahead of their deciding final on Saturday in which Ahly will be searching for their fourth title. The first leg in Sousse ended 0-0.
Emad El-Nahhas opened the score in the coastal city stadium in the ninth minute after netting a controversial penalty kick that was, according to the coach of the home side Talaat Yusuf, the "cause of the sweeping defeat". El-Nahhas was keen to prove that he is not just an efficient libero, netting the second goal in 32nd minute after a through pass by teammate Mohamed Shawqi in the danger area.
The third goal was hit by the ever energetic Mohamed Barakat before halftime, having received a delicious volley from Gilberto on the left side.
No sooner had the referee whistled for the second half to start than Barakat came face to face with Ittihad's goalkeeper Samir Ashour to send a ground-to-ground scorcher, nailing his second goal and his team's fourth.
Again El-Nahhas showed up to present his credentials as one of the established gunners in Egyptian football, sending a long-range ground-to- air free kick that settled in the upper corner of the home side's goal in the 70th minute. Before the final whistle Mohamed Abu-Treika hammered the sixth and final nail in Ittihad's coffin to seal the Devil's sweeping victory.
"It would have been normal if we were defeated 2-0," said Yusuf, holding back tears. "This could be the first time in the history of the encounters between the two teams that we receive such a humiliating defeat -- it's a shame. I have never been through such a terrible experience before."
On the other side the Red Devils' fans chanted for their coach, Manuel Jose, after the game. "Oh artist Jose, take us to Japan," referring to the world cup of clubs in Japan in December that Ahli could play in if they beat Etoile. Jose said he never expected achieving such a stunning victory. "I consider Ittihad one of the good teams in the tournament, and their position in the table [sixth] bears witness to this.
"My players were keen to perform a good dress rehearsal for the Champions League final."
Ittihad remain with 11 points. However, the game was not all losses for the Alexandrian Club, for they garnered a record LE150,000 in revenues from the match.
In Cairo, Zamalek struggled to keep up with Ahli, edged Cement Assiut 2- 0. The Ghanian import Junior, the man of the match, garnered the three points for the White House to maintain his team's second place in the table with 19 points. The Ghanian struck in the 33rd and 75th minutes.
"We were in dire need of this victory before our encounter with Rajaa of Morocco in the Arab Champions League," said Zamalek's head coach Farouk Gaafar. Zamalek flew to Rabat on Monday to meet the Moroccan side in the last-16 stage on Wednesday.
Cement Assiut are tied with Ittihad in sixth place with 11 points. Cement are ahead on goal difference.
In the Upper Egyptian city of Nagaa Hammadi, Ismaili were dealt an unexpected, humiliating, 3-0 defeat at the hands of the newly promoted Alumunium. In a quick response to the loss, Ismaili's board of directors, headed by multi-millionaire Salah Abdel-Ghani, submitted its resignation on Sunday to Governor of Ismailia Sabri El-Adawi. In their collective resignation letter, the members of the board said they did so "because we felt that we couldn't live up to the fans' expectations". The board did not blame the players for the series of defeats in the national league or the club's exit from the CAF cup.
Ismaili are now in fifth place with 13 points, while Aluminium lie in 13th place with only five points.
In other matches, Cement Suez (nine points) drew 1-1 with Enppi (15 points); Misri of Port Said (eight pts.) beat the Army (six pts.) 1-0; the Coastal Guards (14 pts.) edged bottom-of-the-table Koroum (four pts.) 2-0; and the Arab Contractors (nine pts.) defeated Ghazl Al-Mehalla (eight pts.) 3-0.
Tomorrow, at the start of the ninth week, Koroum will host Ismaili in Alexandria, Misri meet Aluminimum in Port Said and the Army combat Ittihad of Alexandria. On Saturday Enppi will meet the Arab Contractors, Ghazl Al-Mehalla meet Zamalek, and Cement Assiut play the Coastal Guards. The Ahli-Cement Suez match was postponed to 19 November because of Ahli's African engagements.