Al-Ahram Weekly Online   28 December 2006 - 3 January 2007
Issue No. 826
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Soccer supers

The year began and ended with huge football victories. Inas Mazhar goes over the 2006 highlights

Click to view caption
After helping Egypt win the African Nations Cup, goalkeeper Essam E-Hadari, above, gave Egyptian fans something to cheer about. Also making the crowds happy was the world's No 1 squash player Shabana, top, and left, modern pentathlon princess Madani

Football had a remarkable year as Egypt won the African Nations Cup and Ahli pulled off an amazing African Champions League victory.

But it wasn't just soccer. Amr Shabana became the first Egyptian to top the world in squash. Wrestling produced Mohamed Abdel-Fatah and a gold medal in the world championships. Weightlifting's Nahla Ramadan, who disintegrated in Athens 2004, managed to win a bronze medal at the world championships.

Bodybuilders dominated the world championships at all levels. There were some surprising results in the modern pentathlon and speedball defended its world title for the 15th year in a row.

Month by exciting month, here's a closer look at the year

Sports entered a new era in January as the governing system was changed. Hassan Sakr became the new head of the new National Council for Sports. Sakr took office when, as part of a major cabinet reshuffle, the Ministry of Youth, which supervises sports in the country, was cancelled and two separate national councils were established in its place: the National Council for Sports with the 55- year-old Sakr as chairman and the National Council for Youth with Safieddin Mohamed Kharboush as chairman.

The two new councils are completely separated with two independent budgets. However, for the first six months, they shared the same budget. During that period, the employees of the former ministry occupied the same place, the headquarters of the Ministry of Youth, on the 17 floor. Sakr is on the second floor; Kharboush on the 12th. The two councils are affiliated directly to the prime minister. Each council comprises 15 members.

Sakr, a former handball star with Zamalek and the national handball team in the seventies and eighties, was known as a gentleman on and off the court. He received the Order of Merit for Sports from former President Anwar El-Sadat.

The disbanded Youth Ministry was founded in 1999 and Alieddin Hilal was its first minister; its most recent was Mamdouh El-Beltagui. Previously it was called the Supreme Council of Youth and Sports and had a chairman.

In the same month, Ahli's Mohamed Barakat, the star footballer, was selected the 2005 BBC African Player of the Year. More than 15,000 listeners of the BBC World Service's African sports show Fast Track as well as visitors to the BBC's African football website voted for the Egyptian. The 29-year-old midfielder won the award ahead of Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o and Obafemi Martins of Nigeria who finished third. Five players made the shortlist for the award but neither Ghana's Michael Essien nor the 2004 winner, Jay-Jay Okocha of Nigeria, made the top three. Barakat led Egypt to the African Cup of Nations but an injury kept him out of action most of 2006.

10 February will remain a remarkable day on the calendar when Egypt defeated Cote d'Ivoire in the final of the 2006 African Nations Cup staged in Egypt. Egypt won a 4-2 penalty shoot-out after regulation and extra time had ended in a goalless draw. By lifting the trophy, Egypt become the first country to win it five times, having won it in 1957, 1959, 1986 and 1998.

The following month, in March, African champions Ahli won the African Super Cup when they defeated Morocco's Royal Armed Forces, FAR Rabat, on penalties in Cairo.

Squash champion Amr Shabana won the Grand Central Championship in New York, defeating Nick Matthew 11-6, 11- 9, 11-4, in the final of the Bear Stearns tournament. It was Shabana's first victory in the tournament after seven years of trying.

Egypt's women qualified for the world junior modern pentathlon championship after winning the sixth African Open championship in Cairo. Thirty-one athletes representing 14 countries took part. The Egyptian team of Omnia Fakhri, Aya Medani and Yasmine Khaled claimed first place in shooting and fencing, giving them the overall event. The Egyptian men's team also won the men's African championship and international event as well. Team A & B took first and second. Team A comprised Ahmed Fakhri, Omar El-Geziri and Yasser Hanafi, whereas team B included Amr El-Geziri, Raouf Hossameddin and Mina Tadrous.

After a close race, Egypt won the right to host the 2007 Pan-Arab Games. Egypt's outstanding organisation of the Africa Cup of Nations gave it a reputation as successful organisers of world class events. Thus it was no surprise when Egypt collected 12 votes as opposed to 10 for Lebanon to win the right to host the 2007 Arab Games. The vote was taken during an Arab sports youth and sports ministers meeting at Arab League headquarters in Cairo. It was the first time in the history of the Arab League that a vote was taken by secret ballot. Egypt, Lebanon and Syria were initially in the running. Negotiations by Prince Sultan Bin Fahd and his deputy Prince Nawaf Bin Faisal resulted in the Syrians pulling out, leaving the Egyptians and the Lebanese.

Prince Nawaf also succeeded in obtaining the auspices of the International Olympic Committee to the Pan-Arab Games after he met IOC President Jacques Rogges. Egypt twice hosted the event.

In April, the dilemma between Zamalek club and president Mortada Mansour reached a head when the board was dissolved by the former minister of youth Mamdouh El-Beltagui. The month, though, the Administrative Court annulled El-Beltagui's decision, saying the move was illegal.

The court said the dissolution was illegal since the former board was elected by the club's congress and general assembly which meant that they were given a mandate by the people. The court said El-Beltagui would have been entitled to dissolve the federation if there was corruption or real danger threatening the stability of the club, both of which were not proven in court. The court said El-Beltagui's decision was based on matters that did not require dissolution.

The board was dissolved after huge club disputes, some of which had turned violent. Team sports in the club had gone from bad to worse and most activities had been suspended by the federations because of Mansour's interference. A new temporary board headed by journalist Mursi Attallah was appointed to head the club until the end of the year and until new board elections were held.

The appointed board of directors, headed by Attallah, refused to comment on the ruling, saying they were appointed by the government until December 2006, and that if the former board wanted to return they would have to notify the appointed board members.

Egyptian Essam Abdel-Fatah and Coffi Codja from Benin made the final list of World Cup referees which had 10 from Europe, three from Central America, five from South America and three from Asia. Abdel-Fatah, 39, said his selection was an honour for him as an Egyptian and an African.

Egyptian judokas won two silver medals and a bronze in an international championship in Vienna. The silvers were won by Hisham Mesbah in 90kg and Sameh Ramadan in free weight. The bronze medal was won by Amin El-Hadi in the 66kg category. Altogether 320 athletes representing 32 nations took part in the event.

In May, Shabana celebrated as the new world No 1 squash player, becoming the first Egyptian to come in first. He became the 10th player to top the list since the world seedings in squash were introduced 20 years ago. The highest seeding an Egyptian had previously reached was No 3, by Ahmed Barada before his career was prematurely cut short following a knife attack by a mystery assailant.

Gezira Club returned from England after collecting 12 medals at the Canterbury Rhythmic Gymnastics Championship. Seventy-nine athletes representing 13 countries took part, some coming from powerhouses Russia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Hungary, Estonia, Serbia and Turkey. A new Egyptian star glittered. Heba Khaled El-Bourini, 12, enthralled the crowds as she displayed her routines in front of a high spectator turn- out. The youngster received rare reviews as she took four medals, including a gold. Critics described her as a promising future Olympic and world champion.

In June, it was time for Egypt's Omneya Abdel-Kawi in the final of the Women's Hurghada Squash International. The 20-year-old, runner-up for the past two years, finally beat Australia's two-time- champion Rachel Grinham to lift the prestigious WISPA World Tour title for the first time. It was a double blow for Grinham, the former world No 1 from Queensland, who earlier in the day discovered that she had been overtaken in the world rankings for the first time by her kid sister Natalie Grinham.

Ahli won the FA Cup, beating arch- rivals Zamalek 3-0 in the final. But the game will be most remembered for an unprecedented incident in the stands when Zamalek President Mansour touched off a mass brawl which engulfed President Hosni Mubarak's personal envoy at the game.

Winning the domestic Super Cup made it three football championships for Ahli during the year. With only two minutes to go, Mohamed Abou Treika scored the winning goal against Enppi to give his team its third local title this season after the league championship and FA Cup.

Squash teenager Rami Ashour rewrote history in July when he was crowned world squash junior champion for the second year in a row. Ashour became the first man ever to win two consecutive world junior squash titles, defeating fellow countryman Omar Mossad in straight games. The tournament saw the complete dominance of Egyptians as they were three of the four semi-finalists. Ashour led his teammates to secure the team title for the second time since the championships began in 1980.

August was the beginning of the modern pentathlon successes. Aya Medani was crowned the world junior championship in the women's event which included 32 participants from around the world competing in the five-day event. In the women's team relay, Medani led her squad to third place and the bronze medal with 5,062 points. Britain and Bulgaria finished first and second. Mena Tadros claimed the bronze medal in the men's event with a total of 5,400 points. Amr El-Geziri came seventh with 5,328 points. Like the women, the men's team also took fifth place with 14,684 points behind the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Russia and Italy.

The appointment of businessman Mamdouh Abbas as Zamalek's club president seemingly put an end to Zamalek's problems. Abbas, a renowned businessman, was expected to be an asset to the club by being able to buy players by paying part of their salaries as part of his contribution to his club. However, six months later, most of Zamalek's members and players believed Abbas was a greater asset to the club when not directly involved.

Egypt claimed the Arab Youth Fencing Championship for under-17 and under-20. The Egyptians took home 11 medals -- eight gold, one silver and two bronze. The team comprised three men and three women accompanied by their head coach, former national and international champion Mohamed Fouad. A total 490 fencers representing nine Arab countries took part in the one-week event.

For the second time in a month, Medani won a gold medal, this time at the World Modern Pentathlon Youth Championship. Medani's second victory came in Italy, venue of the three-day event. More than 100 male and female athletes representing 42 nations took part. Medani also led teammates Yasmine Khaled and Reem El-Sayed to the silver medal in the women's team event.

Later in the month, the death of footballer Mohamed Abdel-Wahab shocked the nation. Abdel-Wahab, 23, right back of Ahli and Egypt, had been training in a morning session at Ahli club when after 35 minutes he suddenly fell to his knees, then his back, holding his head. At first, onlookers thought he had become dizzy from the sun or had suffered heat exhaustion but it soon became apparent he was suffering from something much more serious. When he failed to regain consciousness, he was given first-aid, then mouth-to- mouth. When the severity of the situation became clear he was taken to nearby Misr International Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Ahli pronounced three days of mourning. President Mubarak sent condolences to the club. Ahli also discussed the possibility of Abdel-Wahab's LE1 million annual salary being paid to the player's family for the next three years.

Doctors attributed his death to sudden heart failure, although some observers suspect the problem was in the brain. Another issue was how to prevent further, similar deaths. After Abdel-Wahab's death Ahli and Ismaili clubs insisted that medical check-ups be conducted on all their athletes.

Abdel-Wahab helped Egypt win the Africa Cup of Nations in February and for the past two years was instrumental in Ahli's winning of the domestic league and African Champions League.

Despite losing at the Al-Ahram World Squash Open in Cairo in September, Shabana remained at the top of the world rankings for the sixth consecutive month. The September 2006 rankings of the Professional Squash Association (PSA) confirmed Shabana's world lead with 10,150 points after playing in 10 tournaments. Australia's David Palmer, the newly crowned world champion, remained at number two in the world ranking by collecting 7,618.75 points from 11 tournaments.

Though only 18, Medani overpowered her more senior opponents to claim the gold medal at the Seniors World Cup in Cairo at Al-Shams Club. In the five disciplines -- equestrian, fencing, shooing, swimming and cross country running -- Medani outclassed world champions from Lithuania, Russia and Poland.

Later in the month, Egypt not only hosted the African bodybuilding championship but also dominated it. Egypt came first, Libya second and Mauritius third. The results were hardly a surprise given Egypt's history of world bodybuilding champions. The event was the seventh edition of the seniors championship, the fifth for juniors and first for the masters.

October was the month of women's squash. Egypt's second place finish at the Women's World Team Squash Championship in Canada was the highest for the Cleos in the event. Despite ending as runners-up, the Egyptians nonetheless celebrated their highest finish ever after taking fourth place in the past three championships.

In November Egypt continued to prove its supremacy in the world of bodybuilding. Its rule in the artistic sport was confirmed in the Czech Republic where Egypt scored 84 points to win first place. The Czech Republic was second with 65 points followed by Slovakia in third place also with 65 points. Fifty countries took part in the four-day event. Egypt also received the "Best National Team" award in the final of the championship, given to the team with the highest score in all events considering the most number of gold, silver and bronze medals won.

Ahli captured the African Champions League in November for a record- sharing fifth time. The club returned to Cairo victorious after their dramatic 1-0 win over Tunisia's Sfaxien in the final and decisive game. The score gave Ahli, the defending champions, a 2-1 aggregate win after the first-leg match in Cairo ended 1-1 two weeks earlier.

Fakhri became the first African to collect a medal at the World Senior Modern Pentathlon Championship when she won a bronze in Guatemala.

Egyptian bodybuilding continued its winning ways with three medals -- gold, silver and a bronze at the juniors and masters World Amateur Bodybuilding championships in Agrignto, Sicily.

A 2-1 triumph over Club America in December saw the Mexicans off and secured Ahli a historic third--place finish at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan. The victory meant Ahli had gone one better than in last year's edition. Ahli collected lucrative prize money worth $2.5 million to be added to another $1 million won when they were crowned African Champions the month before.

Shabana rounded off 2006 in fine style when he clinched the Saudi International title after beating Frenchman Gregory Gaultier in straight games in the final of the PSA Super Series Platinum event in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia. Shabana's Saudi success moves him into third place amongst current players in the list of PSA title-holders, behind David Palmer with 19 titles and Thierry Lincou with 18.

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