Al-Ahram Weekly Online   22 - 28 May 2008
Issue No. 898
Sports
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Grouped together

Ahli and Zamalek are to clash in the African Champions League, Manuel Jose remains with Ahli and the national team is to start its campaign for the 2010 World Cup qualifiers. Inas Mazhar wraps up the latest football news

Click to view caption
Jose is carried aloft by his victorious Ahli players

The draw for the African Champions League put Egypt's two top football teams Ahli and Zamalek in one group in the group stage of the competition which starts in July.

Ahli, Zamalek, Dynamos of Zimbabwe and Asec Mimosas of Cote d'Ivoire were placed in Group A of the Champions League, while Sudan's Al-Hilal, Nigeria's Enyimba, Cameroon's Coton Sport and TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo were placed in Group B.

The first-leg matches will kick off in the second half of July. Ahli will host Zamalek while Dynamos takes on Asec in Zimbabwe. In the second round, Zamalek will host Dynamos in Cairo while Asec welcomes Ahli in Abidjan at the beginning of August. In the last round of the first-leg matches, in the second half of August, the two Egyptian teams will play after which Ahli will host Dynamos and Zamalek hosts Asec in Cairo.

The return matches will start at the end of August and this time, the two Egyptian teams will play away. Dynamos will host Ahli while Asec will take on Zamalek. In the middle of September, Egyptians will enjoy another derby when Zamalek hosts the Red Devils in Cairo. Asec will host Dynamos in Abidjan. The second leg will conclude when Dynamos hosts Zamalek in Zimbabwe and Ahli welcomes Asec in Cairo.

Both Ahli and Zamalek are a record five-time winners of the African Champions League. Zamalek was leading until Ahli managed in 2006 to equal the record when they beat Tunisia's Sfaxien in the final. Ahli was about to break the record when L'etoile of Tunisia beat Ahli at home 3-1 in the final to claim the title.

So, in this year's edition both teams have the motivation. Ahli wants to become the only team to win the title six times and make a third appearance in the FIFA World Clubs Cup while Zamalek seeks a sixth title and its first appearance in the World Cup.

Ahli's assistant coach Hossam El-Badri has called Group A the "Iron Group". "It is a very strong and tough group. All the teams are so experienced in Africa. There is no comparison at all between the two groups. There is a major difference between them especially in the technical levels of the teams and their history and experience," El-Badri said, adding that, "Ahli and Zamalek placed in the same group will bring more excitement to the competition.

"Our main target in the tournament is to collect as many points as we can to secure a berth in the semi-final."

El-Badri, however, was surprised that all the talk was on three teams -- Ahli, Zamalek and Asec while ignoring Dynamos of Harare which eliminated the defending champions L'etoile from the competition. "The Zimbabwean champion beat the defending champion twice in the away and return matches. We are not going to underestimate this team and we will have to prepare very well when facing them," El-Badri said.

Mohamed Helmi, coach of Zamalek, said the whites knew there was a possibility of both teams being placed in the same group. "I believe the group is balanced because the four teams are so close in their level of performance. The importance of the Ahli and Zamalek games might be the toughest to us because it is a derby. Beating Ahli will secure the top of the group for us," Helmi predicted.

"We were lucky in the draw to play the first three games at home. It's in our favour and we would like to make the most of it by winning and scoring as many goals as we can to help us in the second-leg matches.

"We will start our preparations following the final of the FA Cup on 25 May which we hope to win to add a 69th tournament win to our record," Helmi added.

In Group B, Hilal of Sudan will take on Enyimba in Nigeria while Coton Sport of Cameroon will meet TP Mazembe of Congo in Cameroon. In the second game, Enyimba will host Coton Sport while TP Mazembe will host Hilal who will then receive Coton Sport in Sudan and Enyimba will take on Mazembe.

In the return matches, Coton Sport will clash against Hilal while TP Mazembe will face Enyimba of Nigeria which will play against Hilal in the second match while TP Mazemebe takes on Coton Sport. The second-leg matches will conclude when Coton Sport hosts Enyimba and Hilal will receive Mazembe in Sudan.

JOSE TO STAY: Ahli scored another victory by persuading the football team's head coach Manuel Jose to renew his contract with the club. Jose's contract expires in June and the Portuguese has agreed to sign a new contract which will continue until 2010.

Jose agreed to renew his contract after an agreement on a 10 per cent raise in his monthly salary which will now reach 65,000 euros.

Another condition was yet another promise from the club management to sign up new players and get rid of others.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian national team has started preparing for its first game in the World Cup qualifications against DR Congo. The national team will train in Alexandria and then return to Cairo for the match which will take place on 1 June at Cairo Stadium.

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