Al-Ahram Weekly Online   16 - 22 June 2011
Issue No. 1052
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Stuck together

Ahli and Zamalek remain tied for the league lead, Ahmed Morsy reports

Click to view caption
Ahli's Gedo surrounded by Petrojet white shirts

The Egyptian national football league season has only six games to go, and no one can predict what will happen. For the second successive week, Ahli erased Zamalek's three-point lead to remain on par at the top.

Both Cairo giants have 49 points for top billing, however, Zamalek are leaders on a plus three goal difference.

Meanwhile, third-placed Ismaili, stuck on 42 points announced they will pull out of the league in protest over the refereeing following their 1-0 defeat by Al-Gaish on Friday. Ismaili's board of directors took the decision after what it called the double standards of the Egyptian Football Association (EFA).

Last week, the EFA announced that foreign referees will be in charge of Ahli, Zamalek and Ismaili games over that weekend.

Zamalek's encounter against Police Union was under the guidance of a Tunisian referee, while Ahli's game with Petrojet was refereed by a Saudi. But Egyptian Fahim Omar was in charge of Ismaili's match against Al-Giash.

In the 77th minute, Omar whistled a dubious penalty for Al- Gaish before Ernest Papa Arko of Ghana converted the winner home.

Ismaili supporters protested against the penalty with some smashing chairs at Al-Gaish Stadium. Six fans were arrested following the game. After the mayhem the club announced their withdrawal.

On Saturday, the EFA announced the consequences of the potential step.

"Ismaili have yet to make an official notification concerning their forfeiture... and I believe it was merely a hasty emotional decision," EFA chief executive Ehab Saleh said.

"A withdrawal would cost the club LE300,000 in addition to a one-year ban from domestic competitions. They would also drop to the fourth division."

Apparently concerned by the affects of a walkout, Ismaili later announced that an official apology from the EFA would be satisfactory.

In the 24th week, leaders Zamalek, who are chasing their first league triumph since 2004, came from behind to beat Police Union 3-1 on Thursday and grab the three vital points.

Police Union were dominant throughout the first half despite adopting a defensive strategy and forcing Zamalek, who were missing their forward duo of Mido and Amr Zaki, not to create any threat on their opponent's keeper.

Two minutes from the break, Police Union forward Salah Ashour gave his side the lead after utilising a brilliant pass from midfielder Ayman Said which brought him clear on goal. Ashour gathered the ball and chipped it over Abdel- Wahed El-Sayed to give the hosts a deserved lead.

Before the break, Zamalek coach Hossam Hassan introduced Hani Said to substitute for Alaa Ali to restore mid-field control. In the early minutes of the second half, Hassan made another substitution as forward Mohamed Ibrahim replaced Ibrahim Salah.

As a result, Zamalek immediately took control and it was only 10 minutes after the break that they levelled. Set piece specialist Shikabala scored one of his trademark 25-yard free kicks which beat Police Union's goalkeeper at his near post, his 13th of the season as he topped the league scorers list.

Five minutes later, Shikabala ghosted into the penalty area from the right flank to pull the ball back to Ahmed Gaafar who notched home from close range to give Zamalek the lead.

In the dying seconds, substitute Ibrahim put the icing on the cake with some neat footwork when he latched onto a through pass to break the offside trap and jink into the area to net home with aplomb.

The following day, Ahli kept the pressure on Zamalek after their 2-0 victory over Petrojet.

Ahli, who are running after their seventh successive league title, controlled the game from the early stages thanks to the midfield pair Ahmed Hassan and Hossam Ghali. On the quarter-hour mark, right-winger Ahmed Fathi broke the deadlock with a powerful free-kick into the bottom corner of the net from the edge of the area to give Ahli an early lead.

In the second half, Ahli was more creative after the introduction of mercurial midfielder Mohamed Barakat who replaced the Mauritanian striker Dominique Da Silva. In the 52nd minute, left-back Sayed Mouawad doubled the lead when he swapped passes with Hassan on the edge of the area before sending a powerful curling shot into the top corner of the net.

Ahli played with 10 men from the 60th minute after the Egyptian national team skipper Hassan was sent off for collecting two yellow cards. However, the extra man did not seem much of an advantage for ineffectual Petrojet who were playing their first game under new coach Mohamed Omar.

The domestic league will be postponed for a week due to the crucial encounter between the Egyptian Olympic team with Sudan in the second leg match after their away goalless draw in Khartoum in the London 2012 Olympic qualifications. The local competition is scheduled to resume on 20 June, a day after the Sudan clash.

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