The new season of the national football league competition, which kicked off last Monday saw unexpected performances and results from the top two powerhouses of the sport. Inas Mazhar
introduces the 51st edition of the competition
Unexpectedly, the sport's top two clubs, title holders Ahli and runner-up Zamalek disappointed their fans in their opening matches in the national football league competition. League champions Ahli were held to a 2-2 draw with Misri in their opening campaign towards winning the 33rd league trophy this season. The opening match which was declared the kick-off of the league competition was played before a capacity crowd at Port Said Stadium, hometown of the Misri team.
Despite opening the score with an own goal from Misri's defender Mohamed El-Hadidi 21 minutes into the match, Misri, supported and cheered by its fans surprised the champions when Ahmed Galal netted a rebound to level the score minutes later. Ahli's defender Ahmed El-Sayed gave their opponents the leading goal when he continued Misri's Ibrahim El-Hilali's offside to give Misri a 2-1 lead.
Misri maintained the lead in the second half until Ahli's star player Mohamed Abou Treika sent an equaliser to save his team an early defeat in the first week of the competition and only four days after the defending champions had won the FA Super Cup against Ismaili. Ahli travels to Sudan for an African Champions League group stage match against El-Hilal of Sudan next weekend.
The result meant that Ahli has lost the first three points in the competition and highlighted the player's extreme exhausted after a tough season that included winning every national and regional event the team competed in. On the other hand, Misri made an impressive comeback under a new coach Helmy Tulan.
But while the defending champions escaped the defeat, Zamalek were beaten 1-0 by Ismaili in the two teams opening match in the competition, held at Cairo Stadium. It was a lacklustre performance for the white team, which is still recovering from the defection of former head coach Frenchman Henri Michel.
Ismaili's Iraqi player, Moustafa Karim scored the winning goal with only ten minutes to go before the end of the match to give his team its first victory in the league competition. Ismaili's spirits were given a boost by the triumph ahead of its traveling to Nigeria to meet the Dolphins Club in a group stage match in the Confederations Cup. The three points won by Ismaili have with put them on top of the league standings in its first week.
It was Zamalek's first match with the new head coach Rudi Krol who was appointed to replace Michel. The Dutchman, who was a former manager of the Egyptian national team, returns to Zamalek Club, which he coached from 1997 to 1999. Krol played 83 times for the Netherlands side, including at the World Cup finals of 1974 and 1978. The 58-year-old coach and former defender moves from French League 2 side AC Ajaccio.
The national league competition has kicked off with 16 participating teams for the second year in a row. The league competition fielded 14 teams before new amendments were implemented. Three teams are newly introduced to this year's edition; Baladiyet Mehalla and Aluminum return to the competition after a long absence. But Egypt Telecom is a newcomer to the premier league competition and has become the 56th team in the history of the event to take part.
The new edition of the competition will probably be the richest ever in the history of the competitions, especially with the huge amount of money being spent on recruiting and appointing new coaches and buying and selling players. The prices, for both players and coaches, have gone up so high it would be surprising if a player was sold for less than a million Egyptian pounds. Some teams have even changed half of its line up players, through sales, loans and replacements.
Misri is the leading team in the competition that has renewed its players; getting rid of 21 and buying 17, almost a new team. Egypt Telecom comes next with 16 new players. Making its first appearance in the competition, the newcomers plan to achieve impressive results. Champions Ahli is the team that has signed the least new players. Only three were added to the list.
Just seven teams have shared winning the past 50 editions of the oldest competition in Egypt. With 32 victories, Ahli leads the winning teams, well ahead of its nearest rivals, Zamalek, which holds 11 titles, and three-time winners Ismaili. Tersana, Olympi, Mehalla and the Arab Contractors have each claimed it once.