Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1123, 22-28 November 2012-
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1123, 22-28 November 2012-

Ahram Weekly

Victory amid tragedy

Ahli won a record seventh African Champions League crown but a horrific train collision dampened the festivities, Abeer Anwar reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Egyptian club Ahli capped a year of defying the odds by snatching success when they beat holders Esperance of Tunisia 2-1 in Saturday’s African Champions League final.
The Cairo giants, who have now won more continental titles than any other African club, at seven, were the underdogs for the second leg of the final at the Rades Stadium on the outskirts of the Tunisian capital but overcame remarkable adversity this year and turned around a difficult situation.
Ahli were held to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the final in Alexandria earlier this month, which made Esperance favourites with home advantage in the return game.
But on Saturday, they ran Esperance ragged and went up 2-0 before Esperance scored a consolation goal.
Mohamed Nagy ‘Geddo’ gave the Egyptian giants the lead after 43 minutes, before Walid Suleiman doubled their advantage with an individual effort on 61 minutes. Cameroon striker Yannick Ndjeng pulled a goal back for Esperance six minutes from full time when he tapped home a pass from the right flank beyond Sherif Ekrami in goal for Ahli.
The legendary Mohamed Abu Treika lost a golden chance to increase Ahli’s lot of goals but missed a penalty kick to keep the result 2 -1 and Ahli the winner 3-2 on aggregate.
However, before the match took place in Tunisia, 51 Egyptian children died when their school bus was hit by a train.  
The collision, coupled with the ongoing fighting in Gaza in which Israeli forces have killed dozens of Palestinians, overshadowed the victory which sealed a remarkable win amid a domestic season in Egypt that has been postponed indefinitely because of the February stadium riots that left 74 people dead.
Ahli’s only competitive action since has been a total of 13 matches in continental competition, an average of just over one a month. To keep up, Ahli have held a string of regular training camps and friendly matches, several in other Middle East countries.
Almost all football matches in Egypt have been played behind closed doors over the last year because of security fears.
Ahli dominated play from the opening minutes as Esperance preferred to sit back in defence, defending their away goal from the first final in Alexandria a fortnight ago.
Ndjeng and Youssef Msakni, who passed a late fitness test after he recently underwent an appendicitis operation, threatened Ahli’s goal only twice as Esperance played the first half mostly in their own half.
It was not until the 43rd minute that Ahli took a deserved lead when Gedo  slot past Ben Charifia.
Esperance came into the second half with more urgency, and N’djeng had a shot saved on 53 minutes.
Suleiman made it 2-0 in the 61st minute, hooking the ball over the head of Esperance defender Mohamed Ben Mansour to leave himself one-on-one with the keeper on the edge of the box before shooting into the bottom-right corner.
N’djeng then hit the post, before finally getting his goal with six minutes to go, side-footing in from six yards — but Esperance still needed two more goals if they were to retain their title.
Abu Treika had his penalty pushed past the post by Esperance keeper who had fouled Ahli’s Mauritania striker Dominique Da Silva.
It was third-time lucky for Ahli who had gone down to Esperance in the same tournament last year and the year before.
Ahli will pocket a cash prize of $1.5 million and represent Africa in the FIFA Club World Cup to take place in Japan from 6-19 December.
Hossam Ghali lifted the trophy after which Ahli were received by Tunisia’s President Marzouki who congratulated the team on their performance, saying that this was the “fruits of the 25 January Revolution.” He also wished the team the best of luck in the FIFA World Club Cup.
Tunisia was the first country to stage the string of revolts last year known as the Arab Spring and which upended its president.
“Such a victory opens the doors of hope to all football players on the national team that we can win in the World Cup qualifiers and in the coming FIFA World Cup 2014,” Abu Treika said.
Ahli’s manager Hossam Al Badri expressed delight to see his team win the trophy in Tunis. “Ahli is a great team and we have a lot of experienced players. We are used to these big finals and the players abided by the rules and did their best to win the title. We wanted to win for the sake of our fans who sacrificed a lot for their team.
“We worked on our forward line as we missed many chances in the first leg via Abu Treka, Gedo and Al-Said. We needed to be positive and not feel relaxed.
“Both teams had some absentees and this forced us to change our tactics.” The 52-year-old manager, who took the place of Portuguese coach Manuel Jose midway in the competition after Jose left the club unexpectedly, said that the stakes were high for his team who will play in the FIFA Club World cup for the fourth time. He said Ahli will dedicate their seventh Champions League title to their fans “who lost their lives defending the Red Castle.”
“Ahli’s match against Esperance should be taught. What Ahli players did was unprecedented. They deserved to win and proceed to Japan,” Sayed Abdel-Hafiz, Ahli’s football manager, said.
Wael Gomaa, one of Ahli’s pillars, became the first player in Africa to be part of five African championships — 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2012.
“I am very happy with the participation,” Gomaa said. “It has been an honour for me to share with my teammates in the celebration of the fifth title for me with the team and the seventh for the club.
“The title this year is different. We exerted our utmost effort and played under stress and very harsh circumstances. I think this is the best title ever.”
“We still feel that we can give on the field,” Gomaa said of retiring as he spoke for Abu Treika as well. “We want to be with our national team when participating in the World Cup of 2014. We feel that we will come through in the qualifiers and show up in Brazil. It’s a dream that we are longing for to come true.”
“It was a legendary match,” Abu Treika said. “Before the match we decided as players that we want to exert our utmost effort to win the cup and dedicate it to the souls of the Port Said martyrs but we never thought that the match will be turn out the way it did. We were dominating all through and Gedo’s early goal stunned Esperance players who were unable to think.
“I am very happy as we made the Egyptians happy and we proved to everyone that Ahli is a big name and a big club in spite of what we faced by playing with no fans, the Port Said massacre and the stoppage of the national league and cup. This is a message and a lesson to each and every Egyptian: if you insist on something you can do it if you work hard despite the obstacles. It is will and nothing else.”
Esperance had been fancied to retain the trophy after the 1-1 away stalemate in the first leg but history was on Ahli’s side after they had previous experience of winning in Tunisia following a home draw.
In 2006, Ahli snatched an injury-time winner through Abu Treika to beat CS Sfaxien at the same stadium. But the heady drama of that finish was eclipsed by Saturday’s fairytale showing which, despite the surrounding tragedies, could have been the best of them all.


Ahli’s Champions League domination

Ahli (Egypt):
7 wins (1982, 1987, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2012)
Zamalek (Egypt):
5 (1984, 1986, 1993, 1996, 2002)
TP Mazembe (Congo):
4 (1967, 1968, 2009, 2010)
Hafia (Guinea):
 3 (1972, 1975, 1977)
Raja Casablanca (Morocco):
3 (1989, 1997, 1999)
Canon Yaounde (Cameroon):
3 (1971, 1978, 1980)

 

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