Monday,11 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1297, (26 May - 1 June 2016)
Monday,11 December, 2017
Issue 1297, (26 May - 1 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Roma want another Salah

Even before Ahly’s huge win, the Italian club suggested they could be searching for one more Egyptian standout,  Alaa Abdel-Ghani reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The day before Ahly met Roma, coach Luciano Spalletti said he might find another Egyptian superstar to sign up, like the one he already has, Mohamed Salah.

Spalletti said he knew Egyptian football well. “I travelled to Egypt and followed players there. I can’t remember definite names but there are more talented players.”

After the Cairo giants beat the Italian heavyweights in a friendly 4-3 goal fest on Friday, Spalletti could have a lot of Egyptians to choose from. Playing arguably one of their finest games in years, the famed red shirts came back from a 2-1 deficit, thanks in part to a stunning right-footed slice from a tight angle by Mo’men Zakaria which tied the game at two apiece at halftime, then a mid-field romp by substitute Ahmed Al-Sheikh which culminated in an extra time winner.

Salah did score in the first half against his Egyptian compatriots, but there were no hard feelings evinced by Egypt’s fans. Roma has become one of the most popular European clubs in Egypt, with more Egyptian Facebook followers than any other European club, thanks to Salah’s heroics.

It was the third time the two clubs had met in friendlies. The first in 2002 ended 2-1 for Ahly in Egypt thanks to goals from Ibrahim Said and Evelino, while Vicenzo Montella pulled one back from the spot for the Giallorossi.

They met again in 2008, when Roma blanked Ahly 3-0 courtesy of goals from Mauro Esposito, Matteo Brighi and David Pizarro. Ahly now lead what is becoming a stirring series, 2-1.

It seems that in football, Egypt has Italy’s number. In the 2009 Confederations Cup, Egypt shocked Italy, then the reigning World Cup champions. That game lives on in memory, from the sole goal, a header by Mohamed Homos into the net of Gianluigi Buffon, to the string of remarkable saves by Essam Al-Hadari.

Despite a very loud crowd of mostly 25,000 boisterous Egyptian expatriates, who met every Ahly goal with raucous delight, Friday’s match began quietly enough, a minute of silence observed for the victims of the EgyptAir passenger jet which crashed into the Mediterranean a day before, killing all 66 people abroad, including 30 Egyptians. Organisers cancelled pre-game celebrations that would have included a concert and fireworks display.

The match matched the brilliance of where it was played: Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, a multi-purpose work of art in Abu Dhabi. Split over seven levels, it is hailed as one of the most modern and sophisticated sporting venues in the Middle East and named the 2014 Stadium of the Year by StadiumDB.com.

Matching the excellence of the stadium, in the stands watching the match was the great man himself, Diego Maradona.

Though only a friendly, the match did serve some purposes, especially for Ahly. The win further boosted the players’ optimism as they come down the stretch in the domestic Egyptian league. Ahly currently top the table on 65 points with six games left, eight points ahead of second place Zamalek. Ahly are hoping to recapture the league crown that they had won the last eight times but had lost last season to Zamalek, their bitterest of rivals.

Ahly, chosen the best African football club of the 20th century, are also gearing up for the group stage of the African Champions League, a tournament they have won a record eight times.

Roma’s season is over, having finished a respectable third in the Italian Serie A this season and will feature in the qualifiers for next season’s UEFA Champions League.

Before setting their sights on the league and Africa, Ahly can temporarily bask in the warm light of having beaten a side which has the likes of the darling of Italian fans Francesco Totti, Edin Dzeko and Salah (Stephan El Shaarawy and Maicon did not play. Then again, neither did Ahly’s 18-year-old sensation Ramadan Sobhi).

Ahly’s biggest international star is their coach Martin Jol. The Dutch football manager has been at the helm of Ajax and Tottenham. He moved to Ahly in mid-season, fitting in fast and nicely.

The victory against Roma is not Ahly’s greatest against foreign clubs. That accolade remains its thrilling defeat of the incomparable Real Madrid in 2001 in Cairo.  The Galacticos came with their all-star cast of Zinedine Zidane, Roberto Carlos, Claude Makelele, Raul and Luis Figo but left 1-0 losers.

Another giant gorged by the Ahly sword were Benfica. The 1962 friendly, also in Cairo, displayed Eusebio, the Black Panther, a strike force who burst on the world stage in the 1966 World Cup. Notwithstanding, the Portuguese champions went down 3-2.  

But Ahly’s deserved win over Roma, after which they hoisted the UAE’s Champions Golden Cup, will be ranked high on the list of foreign giants which Ahly have conquered.

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