Al-Ahram Weekly Online   8 - 14 January 2009
Issue No. 929
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Soccer blur

The local league picture will be made clearer once Ahli plays all their postponed matches, reports Ahmed Morsy

Click to view caption
Barakat eludes Johnson for the lone goal of the game, touching off a display of fireworks and plastic seat debris sent crashing down from angry Ismailia fans

Title holders Ahli might take the lead in the domestic league table if they win their three games in hand against arch-rivals Zamalek, Haras Al-Hedoud and Al-Gaish. For now, Ahli are in third place with 26 points while top of the table Petrojet have 30 points after 15 games, one point ahead of second-place Ismaili who have also played 15 matches.

Due to their participation in the African Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup, Ahli's three games were put off to the start of the second round, in the first week of February, in order to begin the second round with a clean slate.

Ahli will clash with Zamalek on Sunday in an encounter postponed from the 10th week of the Egyptian league. The last meeting of the famed derby was in the Egyptian Super Cup in July when Ahli won 2-0 to claim their fifth Super Cup title.

Zamalek are keen on taking three points from Ahli to stand a decent chance of competing for the league crown. After 14 games, Zamalek have 21 points and are in sixth place.

Before being eliminated from the Egyptian Cup, condemned to an embarrassing 1-0 loss by third-division side Beni Ebeid in the round of 32, Zamalek had ended a six- match winless run after claiming a well-earned 3-1 victory over a stubborn Police Union in their final match of round one of the Egyptian League. At one point in October before meeting Police Union, Zamalek were just three points away from the relegation zone.

After returning from Japan where they finished a disappointing sixth, Ahli claimed two successive league wins and reached the Egyptian Cup round of 16 after thrashing second-division side Koroum 4-0. Ahli are determined to win the derby so as to silence the doubters since many pundits said Ahli were looking out of sorts following their Club World Cup campaign. The Cairo giants, who are looking to win a fifth consecutive league title, will leapfrog Ismaili and leaders Petrojet if they win their three rescheduled matches.

On Saturday, midfield star Mohamed Barakat's second-half strike earned Ahli a 1-0 away victory over Ismaili in an ill- tempered League clash.

It was the Red Devils' first league win over Ismaili since May 2006.

The match's rhythm was disrupted by continuous crowd trouble. Dozens of fireworks and seats were thrown onto the pitch as fans from both sides tried to unsettle the players.

Ismaili supporters lifted a banner that read 'Abu Treika mask dropped', referring to the classy Ahli playmaker's recent statements in which he indirectly branded them as "dogs."

Mohamed Abu Treika, who is known for gentlemanly conduct on and off the field, was infuriated by Ismaili fans' support of Mexican side Pachuca which defeated Ahli 4-2 in the Club World Cup.

The bedlam in Ismailia affected the players' display as Ahli and Ismaili created few opportunities before the break.

Five minutes past the hour mark, Barakat took advantage of a dreadful Samuel Johnson blunder. A poor tackle by Johnson let Flavio's long pass evade him to find Barakat, who slotted home past Ismaili goalkeeper Mohamed Sobhi with aplomb to dent Ismaili's hopes of competing for the league title.

Ahli players rushed to their dressing room right after the final whistle to avoid being hit by a barrage of seats thrown from Ismaili fans. The team returned to Cairo alongside armored vehicles affiliated to the Egyptian security forces following the outrageous events during and after their game at Ismailia in which the home side's spectators kept hurling chairs, fireworks and other projectiles throughout the game.

Ahli had to wait in the stadium for four hours after the match before it was safe to leave, escorted out by security men.

The Egyptian Football Association (EFA) ordered Ismaili to play their next two league games without spectators following the crowd violence. The coastal club were also fined LE50,000 while Ahli were fined LE150,000 after trouble from their own spectators.

"Our display today is the best response we can give to the recent criticism," Ahli assistant coach Hossam El-Badri was quoted as saying on Ahli's official website.

"I just want critics to be reasonable while judging the players," he added.

"We had just one goal: winning the match. We always go for a victory at home or on the road."

Ismaili Brazilian coach Ricardo expressed his unhappiness about his players' performance. "Apart from keeper Mohamed Sobhi and defenders Moatasem Salem and Ibrahim Said, none of my players played up to the standard," the Brazilian coach stated.

"Mohamed Hommos' absence was also a big factor in losing the midfield battle."

He also added that Ahli's experience earned them a deserved win over his team.

Ricardo has given his players an eight-day rest before preparing for the league's second round games, which will start in early February.

Ahli are scheduled to play Haras Al-Hedoud on 19 January in an encounter delayed from the 14th week. Their last postponed game is scheduled for 31 January against Al-Gaish.

Twins fired

The former Egypt captain Hossam Hassan was handed an indefinite touchline ban by the EFA after being involved in a fracas during Misri's away match against Algeria's JSM Bejaia in a North African football club competition.

Hossam and his twin Ibrahim, 42, were relieved of their duties as the coastal club head coach and football director respectively. The former Ahli and Zamalek stars have been subjected to several disciplinary actions since taking over Misri last season. They were suspended and fined more than once by the Egyptian FA for misconduct.

Ibrahim caused most of the havoc in Algeria after the game, when he spat at the referee, assaulted the fourth official and made improper gestures towards the home crowd. The former Egypt defender refused to apologise for his tantrum in Algiers.

Misri trainer Tarek El-Said was also sacked.

The decision was taken by new Misri chairman Ali Faragallah who confirmed that assistant coach Tarek Suleiman will take over until further notice.

Still searching

Swiss coach Michel Decastel has emerged as the latest candidate to lead Zamalek after the sacking of German boss Reiner Hollmann.

Other names including former France and Spurs boss Jacques Santini and Portuguese Artur Jorge were earlier announced as possible candidates to take over the club.

Decastel, who was relieved of his position as Etoile du Sahel coach in October, previously worked in Africa with Esperance, Club Sfaxien, Wydad Casablanca and ASEC Mimosas.

Zamalek are seeking to find a replacement for Hollmann, who was sacked in December after a string of poor results.

They were close to finalising talks with Henri Michel who was Zamalek's coach last year before abruptly leaving but negotiations fell through after Zamalek declined to pay the Frenchman's release clause in his Mamelodi Sundowns contract.

A former Zamalek defender, Ahmed Rifaat, is in temporary charge of the team.

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