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OPINION: El Gohary methods key for Al Ahly against CA
In the last to hope to save their season Al Ahly will be playing arguably their toughest fixture of the season against Tunisian league champions Club Africian in the second leg of the CAF Confederation Cup Round of 16 tie. In the first leg Al Ahly ended the match with an indecisive 2-1 lead which means that a 1-0 loss in Tunisia will eliminate the Egyptian giants.
The Reds are experiencing their worst season in the last decade with arch-rivals Zamalek on the verge of being crowned Egyptian League champions for the first time since 2003/2004. Despite the upset, Al Ahly have shown some signs of improvement since the board sacked Spanish coach Juan Carlos Garrido and replaced him Fathy Mabrouk.
Although the Reds started performing better in the last few games in the league they remain a fragile side with serious problems namely goalscoring and defending counter attacks. However, Fathy Mabrouk seems to know the problem exactly.
Not only that, but the team was also hit with several injuries including Mo’men Zakaria and Hussein El Sayed with former captain Hossam Ghaly experiencing a tough period after the club president Mahmoud Taher’s decision to strip him off captaincy following his actions in the game against Haras El-Hodood.
At the moment it seems like Club Africian are favorites in this fixture, however we shouldn’t forget that Al Ahly will start the game as the qualified team – which is where Mabrouk will start.
Sitting back, defending, and scoring on the counter was Al Ahly’s method in 2013 with Mohamed Youssef and it proved successful as the Reds won their eighth CAF Champions League crown. However, Youssef wasn’t the only one to prove its success but rather the main pioneer of that game plan in Egypt was the late great Mahmoud El Gohary – the man who won countless honours as a coach, and the coach who led Egypt to the 1990 World Cup, the Pharaohs’ last to date.
Despite it’s obvious defensive lopsidedness. Al Ahly’s only possible way to win this fixture is by sitting back and waiting for the right moment to attack, with the pivot of the game plan being Hossam Ashour. The Egyptian international is one of the very few remaining defensive midfielders in Egypt and – obviously – he will be the last midfielder on the team, acting like a sweeper in the middle of the park.
Behind Ashour will be two center backs in Mohamed Nagiub and Saad Samir with Sabry Rahil to their left. On the right there will be a major dilemma, however the best choice is Mohamed Hany, as opposed to Bassem Ali – purely because of his defensive skills.
In such games, the defence must start by the striker so a fast, restless target man will be of a great use to Mabrouk, and the best man on that job is definitely Peter Ebimbemboi.
Of course, the triumvirate of Abdullah El-Said, Walid Soliman, and Ramadan Sobhy in behind the lone striker look irreplaceable at the moment, with the connection being provided by Ashour’s midfield partner – Hossam Ghaly.
Al Ahly’s main concern must be to not allow any goals in by forcing Club Africian to play crosses from more vertical positions that will allow Saad Samir and Mohamed Naguib to dominate the penalty box because of their height. Moreover, CA crosses will be much less dangerous due to the suspension of their international striker Saber Khalifa.
The second method Club Africian might use is shooting from outside the box and this is when the three attacking midfielders must interfere to cut passing lanes, thus not allowing the opposing players to shoot or at least preventing them from shooting comfortably, of course this cannot be done without the help of the two defensive midfielders Hossam Ashour and Hossam Ghaly.
Al Ahly players must also focus on preventing the Tunisian giants from playing any through balls either between the center backs or behind the full backs; in order to carry out that task safely Al Ahly players need to drop back to reduce space that Club Africian players are allowed.
No matter how tall and well-organised Egyptian defences seem to be, corners remain an eternal problem – and the Reds must know how to deal with them, or do their utmost to prevent them in the first place.
Scoring a goal is the perfect scenario for Fathy Mabrouk and will most probably mean the team’s qualification. This time Al Ahly would need Hossam Ghaly and Abdallah El Said to make long passes to the wingers Walid Soliman and Ramadan Sobhy, or to Peter Ebimobowei.
During these attacks it is extremely important for the players to be calm and patient as opposed to nervousness, which has been spreading like a plague in the Reds’ ranks. These counter attacks must be as frequent as possible to force Club Africian players to lower their pressure on Al Ahly’s defence therefore reducing the chances of the defenders making errors.
Finally the players must not waste any chances, especially one and ones with the goal keeper and if a shot is not possible they should try to consume as much time as possible by making a series of short passes, that will play a major role in making Club Africian players and fans more nervous and aggressive which will be very important for the Reds.
As all Tunisian sides, Club Africian players are not naïve and won’t just attack for 90 minutes while giving Al Ahly a chance to counter attack, in fact – what they’ll try to do is sit back and try to score on a counter of their own. If that’s the case then Al Ahly should be more careful and try to give more time to non-risky passes that will consume time and frustrate the Tunisan players, thus giving the defence a chance to recover.
If the Red Castle want to qualify via Stade Rades, they need all of the players to be on top form starting with goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy. The reason being is that defensive techniques will often result in dangerous chances every now and then – unlike an open game, only the best chances survive in a tight one.
Al Ahly players are definitely of the highest quality and experience in Africa; however, during these hard times the team needs to adapt to a more defensive style of play, because of their fragility this season. Especially when you bear in mind that a qualification against the Tunisian champions is bound to boost Al Ahly’s confidence and could prove to be a turning point in the Reds’ season.