Al-Ahram Weekly Online   4 - 11 June 2009
Issue No. 950
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

It's becoming a habit

First it was the African Champions League. Now Ahli have crashed out of the Confederation Cup after a stunning loss in Angola, reports Ahmed Morsy

Manuel Jose ended his title-strewn career as Ahli coach tragically when the Egyptian giants were dumped out of the African Confederation Cup by Santos in Angola on Sunday. The six-time African champions had taken a 3-0 lead in the first leg and were widely expected to ease into the group stage even in the absence of star midfielder Mohamed Abou Treika.

However, the Angolan side Santos, competing in Africa for the first time this year, had other ideas and put on a stunning performance to defeat the Egyptian champions 3-0 in Luanda to level the aggregate score before winning the fourth-round tie 6-5 on penalties.

It was the second time in less than a month that Ahli had been ousted from a major African football club tournament. Ahli went down against little known Nigerian outfit Kanu Pillars before reaching the group stage.

The early minutes of Sunday's game witnessed ineffective pressure from the home side, while Ahli's rearguard remained sealed for awhile. However, Ahli's defenders eased off a bit after the quarter-hour mark, which enabled Santos to carve out more scoring chances.

Bibitchaw put Santos ahead on 27 minutes after releasing a fierce shot that ended in the right corner of the net to give the minnows a morale boost, as they tried to take a stranglehold on the game.

Jose sent Ahmed Hassan in after the half-hour mark instead to Moataz Eno in an attempt to take control in midfield.

After the break, the Angolans intensified their attack and got the lion's share of possession, while Ahli seemed helpless. Defender Ahmed El-Sayed cleared the ball off the line after goalkeeper Ramzi Saleh failed to parry away a close- range shot.

Flavio had the first attempt for Ahli in the second half when he tried to slide home, but his effort was too easy for the Santos keeper.

The post prevented Santos from scoring shortly after. The deflected ball hit right-wing Ahmed Sideek in the face, and he was stretchered off as a result.

Milaks netted the second 14 minutes from time with a close-range half-volley. And a couple of minutes from the final whistle, Faro connected with a low cross to cancel out Ahli's three-goal lead from the first leg.

In the penalties, Ahmed Belal, Gilberto, Ahmed Fathi converted the first three penalties for the Red Devils, before Flavio Amado's shot was blocked by the goalie.

Skipper Shadi Mohamed and midfielder Ahmed Hassan scored from the spot, but Ahmed Ali failed to slot home.

Santos players converted all their penalties except for the second shot that hit the cross bar.

Success for Santos completed a wonderful weekend for the southern Africa nation in the second-tier African club competition as Primeiro Agosto eliminated holders CS Sfaxien in Tunisia on Saturday, also after a shootout.

It was a sad exit for Jose, who stays in Luanda to take over a struggling Angolan national team from with the task of building a team capable of using home advantage to win the 2010 African Nations Cup.

"It is unbelievable to be out of this competition and to have lost by three goals today. My players have won so many trophies with me," a stunned Jose told AFP at Coqueiros Stadium in the Angolan capital.

"But, at the same time, the team was tired as we have just finished the Egyptian championship and we also had three players missing on national duty in Oman.

"I am sad to have ended my time at Ahli in this way, but I have fantastic memories. I love and respect the club so much and it was the best time in my life as a coach."

Ahli assistant coach Hossam El-Badri put down his side's defeat to Santos to "leniency and lack of concentration", while home side coach Mario Clado was elated at his team's "remarkable feat."

"Our leniency and lack of concentration resulted in the loss. Our players were clearly off- form and they are all to blame for the defeat," El-Badri told Ahli's official website.

"They underestimated their opponents, especially after the first leg 3-0 win that earned them a lot of confidence.

"I warned them of such an attitude ahead of the trip to Angola. The 3-0 win was a good result but not nearly conclusive."

Clado voiced his elation over his team's display against Ahli. "Qualifying for the group stage at the expense of Ahli is definitely a remarkable feat," he said after the game. "This victory is motive for us to make more progress in the competition.

"Before the game, I called on the players to put their drubbing in the first leg aside and focus on the return leg.

"We prepared well for the match and managed to figure out the weaknesses and strengths of all Ahli's players."

Elsewhere, Egypt's Haras Al-Hedoud striker Ahmed Salama scored in the 89th minute to help his team beat Libya's Ahli Tripoli 2-1 on aggregate and reach the Confederation Cup group stage.

Hedoud will now play in Group B alongside Kampala City, Bayelsa United and Stade Malian.

Another Egyptian side, Enppi, qualified for the Confederation Cup group stage after playing out a goalless draw with ASEC Mimosas at Petro Sport Stadium on Sunday.

The petroleum side salvaged a 2-2 draw in the first leg.

Enppi are in Group A with AS Vita Club, Entente Setif and Santos.

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