Going different directions
In the African Champions League Ahli are one step away from the semi-finals while Zamalek edge closer to elimination
Six-time African champions Ahli were last man standing in Egyptian football on Saturday, reports Ahmed Morsy. That day, Egypt's football team bowed out of the London Olympic Games following a 3-0 thrashing by Japan in the quarter-finals. Then Zamalek slumped to a 2-0 loss to T P Mazembe of the DR Congo in Lubumbashi in the African Champions League group stage. Only Ahli saved the day after whipping Ghana's Berekum Chelsea 4-1 behind closed doors in Cairo to edge closer to a place in the Champions league semi-final.
Ahli seemed not affected by the absence of their playmaker Mohamed Abu Treika and striker Emad Meteb as well as right-back Ahmed Fathi due to their commitment with Egypt's Olympic squad in London. The club displayed their trademark smooth football in the first half, thanks to some neat interchange play between trio Abdullah El-Said, Mohamed Barakat and Walid Suleiman, who supported lone striker and debutant Ivorian Oussou Konan.
It took Ahli only 17 minutes to take the lead when a precise pass from Konan found Suleiman, who laid off the ball for the onrushing El-Said to send a low shot into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.
In the 33rd minute, defender Mohamed Naguib doubled the lead with a towering header that struck the hands of the keeper and went in following a corner by Barakat as Ahli looked on course for a relaxing home win.
On the stroke of halftime, however, Emmanuel Clottey pulled one back in the 40th minute when he coolly converted a penalty awarded after he was allegedly brought down by Ahli keeper Sherif Ekrami although television replays showed there was minimal contact between both men. Minutes later, Chelsea had their left-back Richard Boateng sent off just before the break after he collected a second booking for hauling down Ahli's winger Suleiman.
After the interval, Chelsea still looked solid in the early stages after creating a few goal-scoring opportunities despite their numerical disadvantage. Nevertheless, they failed to hold out for long even though the numbers were evened up when Ahli's combative defender Wael Gomaa received his marching orders for a second bookable offence three minutes past the hour mark.
In the 67th minute, Suleiman added the third in style. With his back to goal, he chested a fine Barakat through-pass, lifted the ball past his marker with his left foot before it touched the ground, turned and rifled a powerful volley that left the keeper with no chance.
Suleiman wrapped up the win five minutes later, volleying a Barakat cross into an empty net following some neat work between Barakat and midfielder Hossam Ghali on the right flank.
Ahli's coach Hossam El-Badri said their victory showed the experience and resilience of his squad. "The game against Chelsea was difficult as their chances of reaching the coming round of the Champions League had increased after Zamalek's loss to Mazembe," El-Badri told a post-game news conference.
"I am confident of my players' performance. They can cover for sidelined [injured or suspended] players anytime," El-Badri said.
He added that the team still had to meet the target of qualifying for the semi-finals but they are confident of victory.
"Ahli will win the CAF Champions league title and dedicate it to the victims of Port Said," El-Badri said, referring to the 75 football fans killed in a league match earlier this year.
"We will reward the players for winning the games against Zamalek and Chelsea."
As for Zamalek, they suffered their third loss in a row in the Champions League Group B after losing 2-0 at TP Mazembe of the DR Congo on Saturday. Playing their first game under caretaker coach Ismail Youssef following the resignation of Hassan Shehata, they look unlikely to book a last-four berth. Zamalek, who won the last of their five Champions League titles in 2002, have not qualified for the competition's semis since 2005.
They white knights appeared out of sorts against a determined Mazembe side, who were roared on by an enthusiastic crowd in Lubumbashi. With three defensive-minded midfielders and only one playmaker in their starting line-up, Zamalek lacked spark to trouble Mazembe's defence, which was barely threatened throughout the game.
The hosts almost went ahead as early as the fifth minute but were denied by a superb stop from Zamalek keeper Abdel-Wahed El-Sayed, whose one-handed save thwarted a close-range header from Zambian forward Rainford Kalaba.
Zamalek could not withstand a Mazembe onslaught after the break that exposed their defensive fragility and which helped the four-time African champions to a deserved win. Mazembe's pressure paid dividends in the 70th minute when a miss-hit found Ngandu Kasongo, who slotted home from close range after Zamalek's defence failed to clear a corner.
Mbwana Samata ensured the victory seven minutes later with a far-post header after connecting with a deep cross from the left.
Mazembe's win gave them four points, on level with Ghana's Berekum Chelsea while Ahli lead the group with nine points. Zamalek have no points following three consecutive defeats. Three games remain in Group B.
Despite seeing his team lose their third consecutive game in the Orange CAF Champions League mini league phase, Zamalek assistant coach Youssef believes all is not lost as far as reaching the last four is concerned.
"We played a good game to some extent, but we missed numerous scoring chances and that led to our defeat. We fielded a makeshift team due to injuries and suspensions to some key players," Youssef told CAFonline.com.
It has been reported that the Zamalek management have reached an agreement with Misr Lelmakassah coach Tarek Yehia to be in charge of the club from the beginning of the coming season.
"Mamdouh Abbas [Zamalek president] asked me to coach Zamalek and I agreed," Yehia told Ahram Arabic portal on Saturday. "I am waiting for the official announcement from Zamalek's management after their return from the Congo."
Ahram reported that Maqassa management had agreed to let their tactician Yehia go.
In other games in Group A, defending champions Esperance extended their lead when they beat Etoile du Sahel 1-0 in an all-Tunisian derby in Tunis on Sunday. Earlier in the day, Sunshine Stars of Nigeria won their first game in Group A when beating visitors AS Chlef of Algeria 2-0 at home.
Level at half-time, the Nigerians registered their first group victory thanks to goals from Dele Olorundare and Izu Azuka.
Esperance lead the group with nine points, Sunshine Stars come second on level with Etoile du Sahel with four points each while Algeria's AS Chlef have no points.
By Ahmed Morsy