Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1315, (13 -19 October 2016)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1315, (13 -19 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Can it be?

Zamalek are getting ready to face Mamelodi Sundowns in the African Champions League final first leg on Saturday, Abeer Anwar reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

Cairo giants Zamalek are set to go head-to-head with South Africans Mamelodi Sundowns on Saturday 15 October in the first leg of the CAF Champions League final in Atteridgeville‚ Pretoria.

Despite reaching the final, Zamalek were beaten home and away by Sundowns in the group stages.

Zamalek manager Mo’men Suleiman has promised to do his best to beat Sundowns and win the White Knights’ sixth CAF Champions League title, their first in 14 years.

“It is possible that the loss against Sundowns in the group stages may give a boost to their morale but this is not true as playing against Zamalek in the final, not just the group stages, is completely different,” said Suleiman, who added he had been studying his opponent.

“I watched the two previous contenders between the two teams, Zamalek and Sundowns, in the group stages and I know their weak points and their strengths.  They play modern football but Zamalek are ready and we’ll make use of spaces.”

Ahead of the match, Zamalek’s entire assets were put hold by the Taxes Authority because for several years the club had not paid taxes for the land it is built on. As such, the players will not receive their salaries before the match. Mortada Mansour, Zamalek’s president, claimed that the freezing of the club’s assets was intentional, done to affect the players’ psychology before the important contender. “I will meet the prime minister to discuss the problem and try to solve it before the match,” Mansour said.

He also attacked the referee chosen by the CAF to adjudge the first match, saying he was unqualified and had made a number of bad mistakes in several matches.

Zamalek were planning to host the return match of the final against Mamelodi at the cavernous Cairo International Stadium‚ which can hold up to 80‚000 spectators. But security fears have denied that dream and instead Zamalek must play their game against Sundowns on Sunday 23 October at Borg El Arab Stadium in Alexandria with the attendance of only 20,000 spectators.

Zamalek’s last African Champions League crown was in 2002. On 9 March that year in Cairo, the club had a massive advantage in the context of the tie as Zamalek had home support in their first match of the tournament. The White Knights did not disappoint, with a 6-0 belting of their Rwandan opposition following individual goals by Hossam Hassan, Gamal Hamza, Mohamed Sabri, Mohamed Abdel-Wahed and a brace for club legend Hazem Emam. The win all but secured Zamalek’s passage into the second round of qualification, with a 0-0 draw in the away tie more than enough to see the Cairo based side through.

Zamalek were then drawn against Zambian side Nkana FC in the second and final round of qualification for the group stages of the tournament. Nkana FC were the reigning champions of the Zambian league, and historically Zambian teams have proved quite difficult to break down when playing against Egyptian opposition. Zamalek again began the tie with a home match, comfortably taking a 2-0 lead courtesy of Hassan and Walid Saleh Abdel-Lattif into the second leg. The White Knights managed a 1-1 draw away from home to secure a 3-1 aggregate win, propelling them in to the group stages.

Zamalek begun their group stage campaign in stunning fashion on 2 August 2002, comprehensively beating ASEC of the Ivory Coast 3-1 at home courtesy of a brilliant Abdel-Halim Ali hat trick. The White Knights then faced Esperance of Tunisia, ending in a 1-1 draw, which would ultimately be the team’s only draw of the group stages. Hassan got on the score sheet in that tie with Zamalek unlucky not to walk away with the three points after Medhat Abdel-Hadi missed a penalty for the Cairo based side. Zamalek rounded out the first half of their group stage campaign with a 2-0 away win over Mozambique side Costa Del Sol.

The White Knights continued the run with a 3-0 home win over Costa Del Sol in the return fixture with Hassan, Emam and Wael Al-Quabbani getting on the score sheet for the hosts. Moroccan giants Raja Casablanca had secured first place in the other group by this point in the competition which made the last two games for Zamalek that much more crucial in the race for top spot in Group B. The group was blown wide open on match day five, with ASEC gaining revenge on their Egyptian counterparts, edging the White Knights 1-0. At this point, Esperance, Zamalek and ASEC all had a chance of going through as top of the group, however Zamalek held out, recording a 1-0 home win against Esperance in the final match of the group stages.

Having avoided Group A’s heavy hitters in the semi-final after finishing first in their group, Zamalek still had a testing challenge to contest. TP Mazembe qualified for the semi-finals having finished second in Group A, three points behind Raja Casablanca. The tie was made a little more daunting with the fact that the first leg would be held in Congo, meaning a good result with at least a goal scored away would be crucial. Zamalek did get their away goal but it did come in a 1-1 draw in the first leg. Everything to play for in Cairo. With that being said, Zamalek certainly did play for everything in the second leg, running out 2-0 winners after a tough test from the Congolese side. Hassan took his goals tally to six for the tournament in the match, notching a brace to send Zamalek through to their first continental final since 1996, a date with favourites Raja Casablanca.

Zamalek were to travel to Casablanca in the first leg of the final, a place known for its hostility and extremely tense stadium atmosphere. The White Knights came away with a 0-0 draw in a game which saw chances fall for both sides, with the Cairo-based side not able to capitalise and score a crucial away goal. The stage was set for an electric encounter on 13 December 2002 at the famous Cairo International Stadium. With both sides naming strong starting line-ups, the first major chance fell to Zamalek’s Emam in the 18th minute. After a brilliant amazing run through the heart of the Raja midfield, Emam whipped a shot on target which was turned around the post for a corner.

In the third minute of added time at the end of the first half Zamalek had their breakthrough, with Tamer Abdel-Hamid scoring brilliantly. Abdel-Hamid, who had picked the ball up in midfield, lashed a fierce strike which was destined for the top corner of the net. Casablanca keeper Mustapha Chadli got a hand to it but was helpless as the ball looped into the back of the net. Casablanca came out chasing the equaliser and it looked to have come in the 60th minute, but replays showed midfielder Noureddine Kacemi had directed the ball into the net with his hand in an almost Maradona-esque attempt to drawl level from a corner. Zamalek held on with the game ending 1-0 in favour of the White Knights, allowing the side to lift the trophy in front of a packed stadium of supporters.

Zamalek had done it, their first continental trophy since 1996. A triumph made all the more satisfying with the side lifting the trophy on home soil. The Cairo giants however, have been through a rough patch since, having not made an appearance in a CAF Champions League final since that day in 2002. They do have the chance this weekend to break the trend, against Sundowns, a surprise package in this seasons edition of the tournament. Can it be? Based on the semi-final, if Zamalek can come out blazing and keep focused in defence, it is a definite possibility.

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