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CAF Champions League Preview: Cairo’s silent derby
Match: Zamalek vs Al Ahly.
Competition: African Champions League 2012 Group B.
Venue: Military Academy Stadium, Cairo, Egypt.
Time: Sunday July 22, 2012; 22:00 Egypt Local Time (GMT +2).
TV Listing: Al Jazeera Sport +9.
60 million football fanatics throughout Egypt will have their eyes glued to their television sets this Sunday to watch the Cairo derby, being played at the Military Academy Stadium. Yes, fans are yet to be allowed to attend football matches in Egypt post the Port Said massacre on February 1st, 2012. Since the cancellation of the league, Egyptian clubs participating in African competitions have been playing all games behind closed doors.
The Ministry of Interior has informed the Egyptian FA last week that, yet again, they still aren’t ready to secure any football games due to “unstable circumstances”. Egypt has finally elected a new president, and stability seems to be returning to the country, so there doesn’t seem to be a valid reason for the MOI’s decision. When there are other events with attendance numbers in the thousands, one has to question the motives behind such decisions. Concerns that Ultras fans will stage demonstrations favoring one political party over another, shifting power balances, always pops into mind.
The iconic derby, as always, is a nerve-wrecking encounter for both these Cairo-based sides. Zamalek need the three points to have any hopes of qualifying to the semi-finals, while Al Ahly are looking to maintain their pole position at the top of Group B. Both Congolese TP Mazembe and Ghanaian Berekum Chelsea, the other teams from their group,will be monitoring this game closely, waiting for any crackdown from the Egyptian sides to give them an edge in the group.
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Mind Game or Bluff?
Both Zamalek and Ahly players seem overconfident going into this derby. Al Ahly players have backed up this attitude in recent years by not losing against Zamalek since early 2007. While Zamalek players may be doing so in attempt to boost the morale in the squad after the surprise defeat against Berekum Chelsea earlier this month. Players from each club have given numerous press releases and interviews to the media recently, essentially each belittling their opponents.
- Salah Soliman told FilGoal, “I don’t believe Ahly are the same strong team that used to be. I only feel worried when Geddo gets lucky!”
- Aboulaye Cisse: “Winning is guaranteed, and I will rip the net of Al Ahly goalie”
- Mohamed Nagy ‘Gedo’ thinks, “Zamalek is the easiest team in our group.”
- Wael Gomaa who played with Cisse during his loan spell at Qatari side Al-Siliya five years ago says, ““I know well all his (Cisse’s) weaknesses and I am confident I can stop his danger in the derby.”
- Sherif Ekramy to Yallakora: “We always win against Zamalek, its nothing new.”
Hassan Shehata (Zamalek)
Shehata is looking to build on his success with the Egyptian national team by bringing in some silverware to his boyhood club. Till now, Shehata has excelled in guiding the team to the group stages, the first time Zamalek have done so since 2008. An away win against African Super Cup and African Confederations Cup winners Maghreb de Fes pinpoints Shehata’s success with the White Knights so far. Zamalek’s away-form has improved and the teamwork has definitely increased, but the fans are still waiting for the spark of brilliance from club-legend Shehata. It isn’t the best of starts in the group stage for Zamalek after losing away to Berekum Chelsea, but a win against Al Ahly will surely reignite their confidence.
Hossam El Badry (Al Ahly)
The Egyptian tactician wouldn’t have wished for a better start on his reunion with Al Ahly. A home win against mighty TP Mazembe have the Reds’ fans believing that the coach has learned from his past mistakes and may take their club all the way in this edition of the Champions League. In his previous venture as Ahly’s head coach in 2009, El Badry led the team winning the Egyptian Premier League and to the semi-finals of the CAF Champions league. Ahly were knocked out by current African champions Esperance, thanks to the infamous Michel Eneramo goal – with his hand. El Badry recently won the Sudanese Premier League with Al-Merriekh before having a short stint with ENPPI, but he’ll be looking to achieve his first win, in his first ever Cairo derby, in Africa.
Zamalek will be missing some crucial players for the derby. Benin international Razak Omotoyossi has cancelled his contract with the Whites last week after the club failed to pay his overdue wages. Also, despite Shikabala recently apologizing to the technical staff and board for his outburst towards Hasan Shehata, the star midfielder has yet to be included in the squad since the match against Magreb de Fes. Former Wigan striker Amr Zaki, was a surprise inclusion to the 20-man squad despite his reoccurring knee injury. The same goes for centre-halves Mahmoud Fathallah and Salah Soliman, who’ve also been included in the squad despite each having their own injury concerns. Last Sunday, the club announced the signing of Makasa defender Hamada Tolba on a season-long loan. His acquisition will come as a much needed reinforcement to help bolster Zamalek’s shaky back-line after their abysmal defensive performance in the Berekum Chelsea game. Ahmed Hassan’s return from a one game suspension will be welcomed with open arms. He’ll add the much needed strength and experience to Zamalek’s midfield. Assistant coach Ismail Youssef also says, “There will be a surprise in Zamalek’s line-up and I hope it works,” Sounds like an exciting attacking option. Possibly highly-rated playmaker Said Mohamed ‘Otta’, or the return of Shikabala?
Probable Starting XI: Abdel Wahed El-Sayed; Mohamed Abdel Shafy, Mahmoud Fathallah, Hamada Tolba, Hazem Emam; Alexis Mendomo, Ibrahim Salah, Nour El-Sayed, Islam Awad, Ahmed Hassan; Abdoulaye Cisse
Al Ahly have a complete squad in preparation for the derby. The three overage players representing Egypt at the Olympic games (Mohamed Abou Treika, Ahmed Fathi and Emad Moteb) have all returned to the squad for the massive clash in Cairo. The trio will head straight to London after the derby to prepare for their encounter against Brazil. Wael Gomaa has finally been declared fit to play after missing out on most of Ahly’s African campaign this season through injury. Badry is excited to have him back at full fitness and is expected jump right into the starting XI. Meanwhile, youngster Mahmoud Hassan ‘Trezeguet’ has been also been added to the squad for the first time after impressing El Badry in preseason, scoring a hattrick against Turkish side Antalyaspor (a match Ahly won 7-0) and this superb strike against Al Ittihad Al Sakandary this week.
Probable Starting XI: Sherif Ekramy; Sayed Moawad, Mohamed Naguib, Wael Gomaa, Ahmed Fathi; Hossam Ashour, Hossam Ghaly, Mohamed Barakat, Walid Soliman, Mohamed Abou Treika; Emad Metab
Aboulaye Cisse (Zamalek)
The naturalized Burkinabe striker had a dream debut for Zamalek against Berekum Chelsea. Scoring 2 goals in the first 45 minutes, Cisse couldn’t have wished for more. A true poacher, Cisse will pose a major threat to Ahly’s defense, again – noting that he scored the third goal for Al Masry in their 3-1 win over Ahly just prior to the Port Said massacre.
Walid Soliman (Ahly)
The talented winger will be heavily relied on by El Badry for his speed, technique and above all, his goals. Likely to play on the left side, Soliman will exploit the space usually left by Zamalek’s right-wing back Hazem Emam. Soliman assisted Emad Metab’s goal against TP Mazembe earlier this month and has also previously scored against Zamalek with Petrojet and ENPPI.
It’s also worth noting that Emad Metab and Mohamed Abou Treika are the top goalscorers in the Cario derby history with 10 each. Watch Emad Metab’s derby goals here.
Head-To-Head Record (last four meetings in the CL)
- Zamalek 1-2 Ahly (CAF Champions League semi-final; September 25, 2005)
- Ahly 2-0 Zamalek (CAF Champions League, semi-final; October 16, 2005)
- Ahly 2-1 Zamalek (CAF Champions League, Group A; July 20, 2008)
- Zamalek 2-2 Ahly (CAF Champions League, Group A; September 14, 2008)
The Cairo derby was last played in the Egyptian Premier league almost 13 months ago:
Looking at the squads of both teams and noting that the match will be played behind closed doors, a draw is highly likely. The last 5 domestic games between the two clubs have ended in a draw, excluding an Egyptian cup game which ended in a 3-1 win for Al Ahly. Ironically, Hossam El Badry was head coach of Al Ahly during this match. The Egyptian derby is always known for an 80,000 packed stadium since the day of my birth, so an empty stadium will definitely have a negative effect on the players.
Follow Karim Fathi on Twitter.