Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1304, (21 - 27 July 2016)
Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Issue 1304, (21 - 27 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Weekend of woes

In the group stage of the African Champions League, Egypt’s representatives Zamalek and Ahly made little to no headway on the road to the semis, Abeer Anwar reports

Zamalek
Zamalek
Al-Ahram Weekly

In Group B, five-time winners Zamalek lost to South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns 2-1 in Cairo on Sunday to hand a golden chance to the South Africans to secure a place in the semi-finals of the African Champions League.

With the maximum six points from a group reduced to three teams following the disqualification of ES Setif of Algeria because of crowd violence, Sundowns stand a good chance of advancing to the last four, with Zamalek of Egypt trailing with three points and Nigeria’s Enyimba without a point in that order.

Only the group winners and runners-up qualify for the semi-finals. The win means Sundowns are just a point from a place in the last four - with two games each remaining for all teams.

The South Africans were already up after 19 minutes through Samuel Mabunda.

The opening goal brought out the best of Zamalek and they lifted up their game in search of the equaliser. It came on the 36 minute through Mohamed Ibrahim who capitalised on a misunderstanding between Sundowns goalie Denis Onyango and captain Thabo Nthethe, shooting past onrushing Onyango from Aymen Hefni’s long pass.

In the second half, Dolly laid to Khama Billiat who shot from close range for what turned out to be the winning strike.

Minutes later, Zamalek were dealt a major blow as goal scorer Ibrahim saw his days on the field cut short following an ankle injury. Ibrahim is expected to be out for three months.

Sundowns host Zamalek in the return leg in a fortnight in Pretoria, where a win will seal their place at the semis.

They only reached the group phase after the disqualification of DR Congo’s Vita Club, for using an ineligible player.

“I alone am responsible for the loss and I am the only one to be blamed,” Mohamed Helmi, Zamalek’s newly appointed head coach, declared after the match. “There were a number of spaces in the field that were uncovered and the defence line was weak in addition to the players’ performance that was a bit slow. There were a number of mistakes and it wasn’t our day.”

Zamalek’s often critical President Mortada Mansour did not comment on the match, silenced after Zamalek’s Ultras repeatedly mocked him in their chants a few minutes before the end.

In Group A of the same championship, Zesco United of Zambia boosted their hopes of progressing with a 3-1 victory over ASEC Mimosas of Ivory Coast, while Ahly of Egypt drew goalless against Wydad Athletic Club of Morocco in Alexandria. Both games were played Saturday.

The Casablanca-based side has seven points whilst Ahly rests at the bottom after bagging just a point from three games. Zesco United moved to six points after a 3-1 win over ASEC Mimosas. The Ivorians are a place above the bottom with three points.

Ahly’s performance was greatly affected by the absence of Gabonese Malick Evouna, who has joined Chinese side Tianjin Teda, and Stoke City bound teenager Ramadan Sobhi. They saw their tale of woes continue apace after striker John Antwi pulled out after an injury in the opening minutes.

Ahly travels next to Casablanca in a fortnight to face Wydad in a win or break encounter.

Ahly coach Martin Jol now faces a huge challenge following the result at home to Wydad Casablanca. Although the Red Devils were favourites for a record-extending ninth title, they had already fallen to a 3-2 away defeat to Zesco United and a 2-1 loss at home to ASEC Mimosas to mark a disastrous start to the mini-league phase which has seen them fall to the foot of their group.

The 0-0 draw in Alexandria strengthens Wydad’s position at the top of Group A while history is stacked against Ahly securing a top-two finish and a semi-finals place in a competition offering a $1.5m first prize and a ticket to the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup.

Only one of 120 clubs -- USM Alger of Algeria in 2003 -- have reached the semi-finals after losing their first and second mini-league matches.

Earlier on Saturday, Zesco United faced a formidable ASEC Mimosas team who had excelled in away matches this year, winning three out of four before the clash in Ndola.

But the hosts, who have now won five CAF matches at home this season, dominated the Ivorians from the start, going into the break 2-0 up thanks to goals from Jackson Mwanza and John Ching’andu.

ASEC did fight back in the second half, halving the deficit through Youssouf Dao in the 75th minute, but it took just three minutes for Zesco United to make the game safe thanks to an impressive piece of individual skill from Idriss Mbombo in the penalty box.

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