Played all the same
Amid intense protests by Ultras fans, the Super Cup was held, reports Ahmed Morsy
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A sombre Ahli captain Wael Gomaa, club president Hassan Hamdi and Sports Minister Farouk with the Super Cup
In a controversial but fortunately trouble-free affair in Alexandria on Sunday, a stoppage-time goal gave Ahli a 2-1 Super Cup triumph over 10-man Enppi behind closed doors. The game's kickoff was delayed for an hour due to the late arrival of both teams' players in Alexandria's Borg Al-Arab Stadium which was guarded by thousands of riot police and soldiers to prevent Ahli's die-hard fans, the Ultras Ahlawy, from storming it.
Hundreds of Ultras Ahlawy, who along with their arch-rivals Zamalek's Ultras played a leading role in the 25 January Revolution, marched to Alexandria on Sunday morning, and staged a sit-in in front of the players' hotel so as not to let the players reach the stadium to play their first national football game since the Port Said tragedy on 1 February in which 74 football fans were killed Òê" mostly Ultras Ahlawy fans - following a league game between Ahli and Masri.
Those accused in the killings are currently standing trial but the Ultras are protesting at the failure so far to bring to justice the perpetrators of the stadium riot, expressing their rejection over the resumption of football activities without retribution. They had threatened to storm the Super Cup game.
The divisive match was scheduled to begin at 8pm but local security said they needed one extra hour to safeguard the players' path from the hotel to the stadium. The match eventually began at 9.
Despite making calls to storm the stadium the Ultras Ahlawy fan group reversed course in the early hours of Sunday morning. The group announced "if the decision to stop the game or be placed in confrontation with an Egyptian citizen will spill a single drop of blood, then we refuse to be a part of it. Hence, we are announcing the cancellation of the plans of gathering and travelling together." Despite the statement, some fans went anyway.
Alexandria Governor Khaled Ghoraba had said the match would be played on time, and that no spectators would be allowed 6.5 kilometres from the stadium. Yet, 15 minutes after the game was supposed to have started the players were still inside the hotel, leading the Ultras to believe the game was cancelled. Alexandria security forces, however, were savvy enough to exit both teams from the back door of the hotel away from the prying eyes of the Ultras fans.
Football fans and sports critics were divided over the game: one was in solidarity with the Ultras and did not want the game to be played, while the other condemned what was described as the immature conduct of the Ultras. Egypt's playmaker and Ahli star Mohamed Abu Treika boycotted Sunday's match in solidarity which resulted in his suspension for two months, handed hefty fine by Ahli.
"Ahli's technical staff decided to ban Abu Treika for two months and fine him LE500.000. He will be also stripped off the captain's armband," read a statement on the Cairo giants' official website.
While football director Sayed Abdel-Hafiz was quoted as saying on the club's website: "The management took into consideration the fact that it's the first mistake for the player, who has a great history, since he joined the club."
"However, the club has its own rules that should be respected to maintain its principals and traditions," he added.
After the punishment, the player apologised and announced that he completely accepts the club's decision.
"I respect Ahli and I totally accept the punishment," the veteran player said in a statement late on Monday.
"I was eager to call the technical staff and my teammates to apologise to them even before the punishment's announcement.
"Meanwhile, I want to repeat my apology to the management, technical staff and my teammates," he concluded.
On Friday, Abu Treika announced that he would not take part in Sunday's Super Cup game in support with the demands of the team's die-hard fans concerning the Port Said massacre. Consequently, he was left out of Ahli's squad for the game.
"When the supporters invaded the Football Association headquarters I felt the Port Said massacre will be repeated," Abu Treika told Ahli's official website.
Last week, Ultras Ahlawy raided the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) office in Cairo to protest the decision to start the league season on 17 September. On Saturday, following the incident Sports Minister Al-Emari Farouk announced that the domestic football season would be delayed until 17 October.
"Considering the circumstances and to avoid any more damage, I thought it was better not to hold the Super Cup," Farouk added at the time. Farouk later changed his position. "We are not challenging anyone by having the Super Cup played. Playing the game means that life must continue, but does not mean that we forgot the rights of the martyrs," Farouk told Ahli's television channel.
"We are taking all the steps to preserve the martyrs' rights. We respect the angry fans and their views, which they have the right to express freely," he added.
After the Port Said debacle, only friendly football games have been played between Egyptian teams. Since the Egyptian national league and Egypt Cup were suspended after the tragedy on 1 February this year, the Super Cup which is usually played between the winners of the two competitions was played between the winners of last year's competition.
In the last several weeks, the Ultras staged a number of protests and marches, but started to turn more hostile after the EFA ignored their demand to halt domestic football and reschedule the Super Cup game "till justice is served."
What added fuel to the fire is that EFA spokesman Azmi Megahed stressed that the game would be played, adding in a provocative tone that "if you can do anything to stop it, just do it." That same day, Ahli's Ultras fans stoned the premises of the EFA.
Abu Treika was criticised by a number of sports pundit for his decision not to play in the Super Cup match, while several fans, especially from Ultras groups, heaped praise on him for the same reason.
"I didn't mean to embarrass Ahli, the club I am honoured to play for, nor its management that I totally respect," said the 33-year-old playmaker.
"I talked to the coach (Hossam Al-Badri) two days before making my position public. I told him I am not psychologically ready to feature in the game.
"Therefore, I apologise for any embarrassment I may have caused to the board, the team's management and my teammates because I am totally committed to the club's rules," he said, noting that his personal opinion should not affect the best interest s of the team.
Abu Treika, who has never been involved in any dispute with Ahli or his teammates, was fiercely criticised by many football pundits, including some of the club's old stars such as former goalkeeper Ahmed Shobeir and defender Mustafa Younis. Shobeir said during his TV show on the Modern satellite channel that Abu Treika "will suffer many losses" following his decision and suggested that his "glorious history might be ruined."
Younis was a more vocal critic, saying Abu Treika had supported "outlaws". He also said the player was not honest, citing the LE10 million that he allegedly earns every year.
On the other hand, sports critic Alaa Sadek, known for his stinging critique for the EFA's management, was supportive of the playmaker's boycott decision. "Whoever has God's backing should never worry about anything. The corrupt media and the attack by those who envy him will not affect Abu Treika," Sadek said.
Ahli board member Khaled Mortagi said prior to the game that he would not attend the Super Cup game but did not explain the reason for his decision.
"Not going to the Super Cup game. Disappointed with the way things are being dealt with," Mortagi said in a tweet that may hint at disagreements in the usually intact board of directors.
Regarding the game, Abdullah El-Said handed Ahli a first-half lead with a penalty kick after Enppi defender Mano was dismissed for picking up a second yellow card for a handball.
Mohamed Shaaban equalised for Enppi after a blunder from Ahli's goalie Sherif Ekrami. However, Mohamed Nagi 'Gedo' notched up in stoppage time to give Ahli their seventh Super Cup.
The match was the first to be played in local competition since the Port Said disaster forced a seven-month suspension of domestic football.
After the triumph, in a move aiming to calm down the already tense atmosphere, Ahli coach Al-Badri announced that Ahli's management will dedicate the trophy to the fans killed in Port Said.
"We won't forget the martyrs of the Port Said Stadium massacre and we won't give up supporting their families," Al-Badri was quoted as saying on the club's official website after the game, adding: "We dedicate the trophy to the martyrs."
On the online social networks, Ahli's fans considered the Super Cup win as a 0-74 loss, referring to the number of the fans who died in Port Said. Others launched a campaign before the game to boycott watching it.
Meanwhile, Ahli and their arch-rivals Zamalek are preparing for their anticipated African derby on Sunday in the CAF Champions League.
The six-time African champions Ahli are currently second in Group B with 10 points, with one goal difference with the group leaders TP Mazembe, while Ghanaian side Chelsea are third with six points and Zamalek are bottom with one point.