Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1264, (1 - 7 October 2015)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1264, (1 - 7 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

In need of comebacks

Ahly and Zamalek lost their first-leg matches in the semi-final of the CAF African Confederation Cup, leaving big questions for the return matches, Abeer Anwar reports

Zamalek
Zamalek
Al-Ahram Weekly

 Although Egypt’s Ahly were determined to beat South Africa’s Orlando Pirates after losing both the league and cup titles to arch-rivals Zamalek, they played poorly, losing 1-0 on Saturday at Orlando Stadium in Johannesburg.

Orlando Pirates striker Thamsanqa  Gabuza’s first half goal was enough to give the South Africans the lead ahead of their second leg to be played in Suez on 4 October.

The victory meant a lot to the South Africans who are seeking to become the first side from the country to reach the final of the second-tier continental club championship since its inception in 2004. Two years ago, Ahly denied Pirates their first ever continental silverware since 1995 by beating them in the final of the more prestigious African Champions League. So it was revenge time for the Pirates.

Although Ahly were out of sorts in the first half of Saturday’s match, they took control in the second with several attacking forays.

The loss put Ahly in the positions they were in 1982 and 1988.

In 1982, Ahly lost in their semi-final first-leg match 1-0 to Nigeria’s Inigo Rangers but were able to win the African championship for the first time in their history after beating Achante Kotoko 4-0.

In 1988, Ahly lost the semi-final opener to Algeria’s Setif 2-0 but bounced back as 2-0 winners in Cairo, after which they lost in the subsequent penalty shots.

After Saturday’s match both Ahly coach Fathi Mabrouk and assistant Alaa Abdel-Sadek vented their anger at the players for the loss. Rumours floated that Mabrouk would not continue following the string of losses and would be substituted by a Brazilian coach. But Taher Al-Sheikh, Ahly board member, squashed the reports. “It is always the same rumour after each loss. We will keep Mabrouk on. We trust him and there is no place for such a discussion for the time being in the Red Castle.”

Ahly fear the nightmare of finishing the season without a major trophy for the first time in more than a decade, especially that the defeat to Orlando came less than a week after they lost 2-0 to Zamalek in the Egyptian Cup final, having also finished runners up to their Cairo rivals in the Egyptian Premier League.

The Cairo Red Devils have struggled to find the net on the road this season in the African equivalent of the Europa League, scoring only once in three away group games.

“It was important to keep a clean sheet at home against a good team. We defended very well. I’m happy with the 1-0 win. Objective done,” said Pirates coach Eric Tinkler. “We made some poor decisions at times but overall I’m very satisfied,” Tinkler was quoted as saying in the post-match press conference.

While Ahli’s 1-0 loss is surmountable, Zamalek’s thrashing is almost impossible to overcome. In the other semi-final of the same tournament, Zamalek of Egypt were slammed 5-1 by Tunisia’s Etoile du Sahel in the first leg in Tunisia, making their bid for a first ever Confederation title extremely difficult.

Goals by Etoile came through Marouane Tej who scored twice, Baghdad Bounedjah, Alaya Brigui and substitute Saddam Ben Aziza

Zamalek’s sole goal came through Ayman Hefni who had made it 2-1.

Zamalek, domestic league and cup title holders for the first time in 27 years, found themselves down 2-0 in only 11 minutes at Stade Olympique in the Tunisian Mediterranean resort of Sousse.

Etoile, who scored just four goals in three group games in their journey to the last four in the Confederation Cup, scored at will in an unprecedented performance.

Still, Mortada Mansour, Zamalek club president, sent a message to the team after the loss: “You have lost half the match but there is still a chance in Cairo in the other half and you are up to the challenge.”

Zamalek must win 4-0 in the return to reach the final.

Ahmed Mortada, Zamalek’s board member, said the team would not play the return leg unless fans were admitted to the game. Most local games in Egypt have been played without spectators for the past three years because of crowd disturbances.

At a press conference held after the match, Zamalek’s Portuguese manager Ferreira took responsibility for the loss. “We tried to win but the penalty kick that was not counted by the referee would have changed the whole match.

“I am shocked by the players’ performance. We played 13 matches, won nine, lost three and drew in one but today it was a complete disaster.” Ferreira said he was criticised when he opted to play reserve goalkeeper Mahmoud Genesh in the cup final. Starter Ahmed Shennawi was between the posts in Tunisia. “Now I am attacked for playing Shennawi who did well all in the previous matches.”

Assistant Ismail Youssef said Zamalek have the ability to win 4-0 in Cairo if the players concentrate more and avoid “silly mistakes”.

“I am very satisfied with the result,” Fawzi Al-Benzerti, Etoile du Sahel’s coach said. “I instructed the players to defend well and play all through the 90 minutes attacking football. I knew that the key to beating Zamalek was to block their front line. I do respect the White Knights but I think we are the better team.”

Zamalek host Etoile next Saturday in Cairo.

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