Friday,20 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1316, (20 - 26 October 2016)
Friday,20 October, 2017
Issue 1316, (20 - 26 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Wanted: A miracle

Zamalek’s 3-0 first leg away loss to Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa makes winning the Champions League title almost impossible. Abeer Anwar reports

Zambalek
Zambalek
Al-Ahram Weekly

Three goals, two coming in the first half and very early in the second, have made Zamalek’s mission of winning their sixth African Champions League title next week almost impossible.

Anthony Laffor and Tebogo Langerman made it 2-0 at half-time, with the third coming less than a minute into the second half when Islam Gamal conceded an own-goal.

The match was watched by a capacity 30,000 crowd at Lucas ‘Masterpieces’ Stadium on the outskirts of Pretoria.

It was a sad Saturday night at Zamalek Club in Cairo after their fans described the team not only as a loser but pathetic. The players, although experienced enough, lacked team spirit as each was playing individually. They were defending from the first minute of the match as if they had scored half a dozen goals. The tactic was futile and if anything, proved fatal.

If Sundowns are to be crowned champions after the return match in Alexandria next Sunday 23 October, they will become only the second South African winners of the competition after Orlando Pirates 21 years ago. History favours Sundowns as only one club, Mouloudia Alger of Algeria in 1976, have overcome a three-goal first-leg deficit in a final.

“We won’t say that nothing is impossible because what we demand is realistic for Zamalek fans whose time has come to decide the second leg,” Zamalek SC’s official Facebook page, which is followed by more than 5.5 million fans, posted Sunday morning.

Zamalek’s future mission was described as needing “a miracle” by coach Mo’men Suleiman following Saturday’s away loss.

“We were better in the first 25 minutes of the game, controlling it and wasting some chances,” Suleiman told the post-match news conference.

“But if we win the trophy, it will almost be a miracle. I’m waiting for a response from my players,” added the rookie coach, under whom Zamalek won the Egypt Cup following a 3-1 win over arch rivals Ahli in August.

“We will have a difficult day in Alex next week,” Suleiman said. “We had a difficult day against Wydad in Morocco and Sundowns will have a more difficult day in Alexandria. We are in a very difficult situation but we still have another game to make amends,” he added.

In a message sent to the players through his son Ahmed, Mortada Mansour, Zamalek’s president, said “I am sure that you did your best for your club in the first-leg match and I want you to forget about the loss and concentrate on the coming match. It is never too late and all your fans and all Egyptians are backing you. You are up to the challenge and you can do it. I am sure you can.”

The team was set to return to Cairo early Monday 17 October and were to start preparations for the upcoming clash the next day.

Five-time Champions League holders Zamalek are bidding for their sixth title since 2002. Their best showing thereafter came in 2005 when they reached the semis but were ousted by Ahli.

Mamelodi Sundowns manager Pitso Mosimane is convinced his side are yet to settle the Champions League final in their favour despite the big win in Pretoria. He believes they haven’t settled the tie yet and need to keep their feet on the ground to claim their first-ever Champions League title.

“We need to keep our feet on the ground. I’ll manage this,” the 52-year-old Mosimane was quoted as saying by the club’s official Twitter account.

Midfielder Hlompho Kekana echoed his coach’s sentiments, saying that the second leg, due to be staged at Alexandria’s Borg El-Arab Stadium, will still be difficult. “It was a difficult match even if we were playing at home,” Kekana told BeIN Sports right after the game.

“We had to score many goals today, but still going to Alexandria will be very difficult. Hope to score one or two goals there even though Zamalek are an experienced side.”

Winger Keagan Dolly emphasised how tough the second leg would be, while admitting that scoring three goals at home could help them manage it in Alexandria.

“It wasn’t easy at all. We knew the game was going to be difficult, and we already know how good they (Zamalek) are,” Dolly told BeIN Sports. “It’s not over yet. It’s going to be tough (in Egypt) and we still got to work hard. But with scoring three goals here, I think we could manage it and win the title. We created many chances and we could have scored more.”

A continental success for the South African club will complete a remarkable turnaround this year in the premier African club football competition. Sundowns were eliminated by Vita Club in the final qualifying round in April only to be reinstated when the Democratic Republic of Congo side were disqualified for using an ineligible player. The Pretoria team went on to defeat Zamalek twice, narrowly at home and away in the group stage, but taking a three-goal lead in the final exceeds their wildest dreams.

Not since 2010, when TP Mazembe beat Esperance of Tunisia 5-0, has a club built such an emphatic first leg lead in the final.

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