The African Champions League match doesn't necessarily mean the return of the domestic league. Inas Mazhar
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Clockwise from top: despite the unrest, the public went to the Zamalek game; Zamalek's Shikabala in action; EFA president Samir Zaher wondering about Egypt's football future
The African Champions League match between Zamalek and Stars of Kenya, see below, went smoothly and incident-free at the Military Academy Stadium in Cairo. However, president of the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) Samir Zaher said that though the match witnessed a high spectator turnout at the 25,000 seat stadium, and there were no incidents reported apart from fair football support, the resumption of the league following the 25 January protests was still being debated.
Zaher denied reports that had set 6 March as the date for the return of the domestic competition. "This match [Zamalek vs Stars] and the attitude of the fans might encourage the military to give it [the league] a try. But, in the current situation which is still unstable, I think they are the ones who should decide because they have better judgment in such situations," Zaher said, adding that the army, now in charge of the country in the wake of the revolt that toppled the government on 11 February, has to confirm the date, "but it's definitely not going to be next week."
Amr Abul Ezz, assistant executive director of the EFA, said the league might resume at the end of this month but that this still had to be decided by the armed forces.
The EFA has been meeting regularly with the 16 clubs belonging to the national league to debate the league's future. Most support the return of the league for the sake of the game, the fans and the players.
The head coach of Ahli, Portuguese Manuel Jose, has warned that the suspension of the league would lead to the bankruptcy of clubs. "They will not be able to pay the salaries of the players since the sponsors will be either deducting money from their contracts or even cancelling them," Jose said. "The whole competition will be affected."
Jose added the performance of the players will also deteriorate for lack of match fitness.
Jose denied that he would be leaving Ahli for Sporting Lisbon in Portugal which recently fired its coach and was trying to approach Jose. He said he was staying with Ahli and would "never leave."
Jose said he did not leave during the most dangerous days of the revolution despite calls from his embassy to do so.
The Portuguese has also asked his players to ignore the criticism of some demonstrators who are critical of the Ahli players as being unpatriotic for not participating in the protests.
Zaher flew on Tuesday to Khartoum to represent the EFA at meetings of the African federation (CAF) during which he plans to again ask for a postponement of Egypt's African Nations Cup qualifier against South Africa which is scheduled for 26 March in Johannesburg. The South African side refused to postpone the match when the EFA first broached the subject that the game could be postponed to June.
Zaher said he will explain the situation to CAF officials. However, the EFA is not sure CAF will agree or force South Africa to accept the delay especially since the game is scheduled to be held in South Africa and not Egypt.
The EFA's Plan B: before leaving, Zaher met Egypt coach Hassan Shehata to see how ready the team could be in three weeks for the match. The team, which has not played for over a month, would hold a one-week training camp in Oman before flying to South Africa for the crucial qualifier.
After two games with four left, Egypt have collected just one point from their group. Egypt are a record seven-time champion of Africa, winning the last three titles in a row.
What is almost certain is that the CAF will postpone the African Nations Under-17 Cup which was scheduled to be held in Libya on 17 March. The uprising in Libya makes it highly unlikely that the two--week tournament will be held there. Nor can the tournament be shifted to another country on such short notice.
Egypt had qualified for the championship and head coach Diaa El-Sayed said he would continue preparing the team for the tournament.