9 - 15 December 1999
Issue No. 459
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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No contestBy Abeer Anwar
Ahli's women volleyball team successfully defended its Arab crown, beating Safaqus of Tunisia to claim top spot in the seven-club group.
The nine-day tournament, which ended 1 December, was hosted by the champs at their indoor hall, but so weak was the opposition that Ahli could easily have taken the title no matter where it was held. The event may, however, eventually be remembered for the presence of Al-Fatah (The young woman) of Kuwait, the first female Kuwaiti team to participate in a major championship. For now though, the most striking point of the tournament was the withdrawal of Algeria's Begaia club prior to the matches, which forced a change in the format from two groups of four teams each to one group playing a round-robin system.
It was the Egyptian team's second victory in the tournament, called the Women Arab Clubs League Volleyball Championship, which has only been held twice. Its debut was in Tunisia in 1997.
In last week's championship, Ahli swept Safaqus in just one hour, 25-15, 25-17, 25-17, thus winning all its six matches -- without dropping a set. The club also garnered the major individual honours; Tahani Tosson was named best player in the tournament, Mariam Magdi best receptionist and Sara Ebeid best libero.
Ahli's preparations took it to Hungary for two weeks and included 10 friendly matches. The club also acquired Kenyan Violet Baraska and Naderko Florina from Romania. Each girl is 1.80 centimetres tall, increasing the team's attacking and blocking punch.
The practice and the changes were to prove more than enough. In the opening match against Moulidia of Algeria, Ahli was ready and waiting, pouncing on the opponent 25-21, 25-16, 25-21.
"The first match is the most important because it gives the players confidence and a push," Ahli coach Raouf Abdel-Qader said. The scenario was repeated against Qalamoun of Lebanon with scores of 25-19, 25-21, 25-13. Against the Lebanese, Abdel-Qader gave his substitutes a chance to work out. Among the bench warmers arose Amina Fouad, a bright young talent whose powerful spikes played a big role in the team's victory. Another little-used player, Miral Raouf, was found to be a playmaker of the first order.
In its third match, Ahli smashed Syria's Al-Geish 25-15, 25-15 and 25-13. In their fourth match, considered then an early final of the championship, Ahli blanked Tunisia's Al-Gamaa, the team that placed second after Ahli in 1997. It was Baraska's turn to be heroine, helping the team to a 25-15, 25-19, 25-20 victory. "They did their best and experience had the upper hand," Abdel-Qader said. "I'm happy because we have the chance now to keep the title after smashing the competition's strongest opponent."
No sooner did Ahli beat Safaqus to clinch the title, than the Egyptians flew to Nairobi for the 7th African Club Winners Championship, a championship they last won two years ago.
"We hope this victory will help the club to recapture the trophy," Abdel-Qader said before embarking for Kenya.