Thursday,25 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1438, (11 - 17 April 2019)
Thursday,25 April, 2019
Issue 1438, (11 - 17 April 2019)

Ahram Weekly

Colossal collapse

After being trounced by South Africa’s Sundowns, Ahly have a mountain to climb if they wish to reach the semi-finals of the African Champions League, reports Abeer Anwar

 

On Saturday 13 April eight-time trophy holders Ahly of Egypt have the daunting task of trying to reverse a 5-0 demolition when they play Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa at home in Borg Al-Arab Stadium in their CAF Champions League second leg match in the quarter-finals.

It was the heaviest defeat for Ahly in their otherwise storied African history and leaves their chances of reaching the semi-final at close to nil.

Themba Zwane and Wayne Arendse scored to give the hosts a 2-0 half-time advantage at a packed 25,000-seat Lucas ‘Masterpieces’ Moripe Stadium in Atteridgeville. Brazilian Ricardo Nascimento converted a penalty two minutes into the second half and goals from Uruguayan Gaston Sirino and Ahly reject Phakamani Mahlambi completed the rout.

In order to make it to the semis, Ahly will have to score at least five goals while playing enough defence to prevent Sundowns from scoring what would surely be a killer away goal.

Beating Ahly, who have also won a record 19 CAF titles, by such a wide margin was beyond the wildest dreams of even the most optimistic Sundowns supporter. It was mostly believed that a two-goal advantage was the best shock 2016 Champions League winners could hope for against such vaunted opponents. Indeed, Ahly succumbed so easily that Sundowns had a hard time believing they were playing the team voted the African Club of the Century.


Ahly

The worst African defeats that Ahly have suffered were several three-goal losses since making their debut in the competition 43 years ago.  

Uruguayan Coach Martin Lasarte, who took over this year from Frenchman Patrice Carteron who was sacked after Ahly surrendered a 3-1 first-leg lead to lose the 2018 final against Esperance of Tunisia, apologised on Ahly’s official Website for their devastating loss to Sundowns. “We had a very bad match today, and we need to work hard in the coming period to fix many things. I apologise to Ahly fans, and we only have to work and focus on what is ahead.”

Despite Lasarte’s apology, some Ahly fans said they would boycott the second leg by not watching it.

Others came to Ahly’s defence, pointing to giant European clubs, including  Barcelona and Liverpool, who they say have passed through hard times but were able to pick themselves up in due time. But whether Ahly can do the same in the few days available and climb what appears to be an insurmountable mountain remains to be seen.

In a meeting held with the players and Lasarte behind closed doors, Ahly Club President Mahmoud Al-Khatib refused to hear excuses for the embarrassing loss. “What happened in South Africa is completely unacceptable. Ahly’s name is a red line and everyone is responsible for what happened.”

Al-Khatib added that what happened to Ahli was “alien” to the team and that he would not allow it to happen again, saying that apologising was “not enough in such a situation” and that everyone had a responsibility towards his club and that each player should exert his utmost in the second leg match.

At the same time, Ahly’s arch-rival Zamalek faced Morocco’s Hassania Agadir on Sunday in Suez Stadium in their second leg of the African Confederation Cup quarter-final following a much better 0-0 draw in Morocco.

Zamalek were let-off on several occasions during the match, with Agadir missing several golden opportunities.

The result means that Zamalek will now be slight favourites to advance to the semis when they host Agadir in the second leg.

It will be Zamalek’s second encounter against a side from Morocco in this season’s second tier continental club competition. To reach the group stage Zamalek outclassed IR Tangier after holding them to an away barren draw, before finishing the job with a 3-1 victory in Cairo.

In all, Zamalek have faced Moroccan sides in 15 CAF games. The White Knights have the upper hand, having won nine games, drawn four and lost only twice, scoring 25 goals and conceding 12 in the process.

While facing Hassania Agadir for the first time, Zamalek might have been reminded that their last two CAF trophies came at the expense of Moroccan sides. They defeated Casablanca giants Raja 1-0 on aggregate in the 2002 CAF Champions League final, before outclassing rivals Wydad 3-1 in the 2003 CAF Super Cup.

Zamalek go in to Sunday’s encounter also on a high as they top the Egyptian Premier League, two points clear of Ahly with 10 games to go.  

The winner of Zamalek-Agadir will face either Tunisia’s Etoile du Sahel or Sudan’s Hilal in the semi-final.

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