Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013
Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Split decision

The new football league format for this season is being hotly disputed by the clubs, Inas Mazhar reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

The 18 participating teams are this year divided into two groups of nine teams each.
Ahli leads Group A along with Enppi, Makasa, Harras Al-Hedoud, Al-Gouna, Wadi Degla, Semouha, Ghazel Mehalla and Telephones Beni Soueif.
Group B sees Zamalek on top of the group along with Ismaili, Police Federation, Talae’e Al-Geish, Petrojet, Military Production, Ittihad of Alexandria, Arab Contractors and Al-Dakhlia.
The league will not feature Masri club which has withdrawn despite winning its case at the Court of Arbitration of Sport whose verdict had overruled the punishment given by the Egyptian Football Association to suspend Masri for two years. The penalty was administered in the wake of last year’s football riot in Port Said when Ahli played Masri and in which 72 people were killed.
Masri announced that even though they had won their appeal in CAS they could not return to the league this year out of respect for the victims of the families of the disaster.
The draw of the competition’s match schedule was scheduled to be held Wednesday 9 January. The draw and new format and regulations will then be sent to the 18 clubs for approval.
The league is set to start on 2 February, a day after the first anniversary of the Port Said massacre.
According to the new round robin format, teams from each group will play each other just once. The top two teams from each group will then qualify to the semi-final. First of Group A will meet second of Group B whereas the winner of Group B will meet the second of Group A. The winners will then play for the league trophy while the losers will play off for the third and fourth place. The last two teams will be relegated to the second division.
As a security precaution, all matches will be played without spectators.
According to EFA board member Ihab Leheta, the board of directors has decided to change the format of the tournament from the usual one group, home and away format because of the time limit. “We are starting late than usual, almost five months after the usual kick off in September and we have to finish the competition by July maximum. So we decided to apply this new system,” explained Leheta.
“Security is another reason. Officials from the Ministry of Interior want less matches to be played and without fans in order to control the matches and secure them. So instead of each team playing 34 matches over two rounds, each team will now play only eight matches.
“We have put Ahli and Zamalek on top of the groups because of their history and to keep them apart and avoid any clashes in their matches. We put Enppi with the Ahli group and Ismaili in the Zamalek group so that the top teams can avoid meeting each other in the early stages,” Leheta explained.
The new format has brought feedback from the participating clubs, those supporting and those against.
Head coach of Ahli club Hossam Al-Badri believes Group A which includes Ahli is the tougher of the two groups. “The teams of our group are more disciplined and include full-squad teams whose circumstances are better than the other group,” Al-Badri said. He refused to comment on the new format, saying it was the concern of the EFA and that as clubs they have no right to interfere.
Head coach of Haras Al-Hedoud Helmi Tolan had no such reservations. Tolan complained of the way the draw was implemented agreeing with Al-Badri that one group is tougher than the other. Haras Al-Hedoud is with Ahli group.
“EFA officials invited us to the draw and then minutes later changed the distribution of the teams in the groups for unknown reasons. It left a bad impression and our complaints were ignored,” Tolan said.
On the repeated delays regarding the start of the season, Tolan said that this time “the Ministry of Interior announced its approval which makes it serious. In the past it didn’t. We expect that the verdict of the Port Said trials will be announced a week before the kick off of the league as scheduled.” The rulings are eagerly anticipated especially by Ahli’s Ultras, seeing that the majority of those who died in Port Said were Ahli fans.
Anwar Salama, head coach of Al-Gouna, is against the new format. “If it was decided to resume the league then it’s better to play it according to its regular and traditional format. Why change it to a group system?
“There is another problem, one facing the teams which will be relegated from the premier league to the second division.
“I feel we’re playing in one of the Ramadan tournaments or a small street football competition, not in the national league,” Salama said, agreeing with Tolan on the attitude of the EFA officials in carrying out the group plan and changing it “which reflects an underestimation of the clubs.”
Talaat Youssef, head coach of Telephones Beni Soueif, was also surprised by the new format. Youssef said teams were switched from one group to another after an initial plan, forcing Enppi, Harras Al-Hedoud, Semouha, Al-Gouna and his club to present an official complaint to the EFA on the way the teams were selected.
“We were called to the EFA to name our home stadiums but we were stunned when they started placing teams in the group without any prior notice,” Youssef told the daily newspaper Al-Ahram.
Head coach of the Semouha club Shawki Gharieb also refused the two-group league saying there was no reason for changing the format especially that most leagues all over the world follow the one-group system. Gharieb added that the national team has no engagements during that period which means there was no problem regarding the timing.
Sabri Al-Meniawi, head coach of the Ismaili club, said that his team is not concerned about the new format as he has his doubts about the resumption of the league competition in the first place. “I’m sure the league will not start on 2 February.”
Enppi’s Tarek Al-Ashri said the most important thing is the return of the league competition, not the shape or the format of the competition “because the delay in the resumption of the league has led to several problems for the clubs, especially financially.”
Leheta said that those who oppose the new format are just trying to find excuses not to play and that those who have threatened to withdraw will be penalised by the EFA and will drop to the second division.

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