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Ramadan Tales E3: Al Ahly defy odds against European giants Real Madrid, Roma
The third episode of KingFut Ramadan Tales has arrived, and boy is it a treat. There have been some amazing efforts put in by Egyptian teams against the giants of European football over the years, but these two results, especially the first one we are reviewing, are the stuff of dreams. As part of our Ramadan Tales series, we bring to you Al Ahly’s victory over the Galacticos of Real Madrid in 2001 as well as their victory over AS Roma in 2003.
The 4th of August 2001 is a date etched into the history of Egyptian football. Al Ahly, freshly crowned as the first-ever African Club of the Century for what can only be described as an incredible title haul both domestically and continentally in the 20th century, hosted Real Madrid in front of a sellout crowd at the Cairo International Stadium.
Despite the magnitude of the match, Al Ahly were given almost no chance before the tie. Real Madrid at the time had one of the fiercest sides ever seen in world football, boasting the talents of Zinedine Zidane, Roberto Carlos, Claude Makelele, Raul and Luis Figo to name a few. The match, billed as the Clash of the Century, looked to be over before it started, with Real Madrid opting to field a full strength team. Al Ahly had other ideas though, and the occasion, a once in a lifetime opportunity for both players and fans alike, saw one of the biggest upsets of all time.
Al Ahly XI – Essam El-Hadary, Ashraf Ameen, Shady Mohamed, Wael Gomaa, Saeed Abdel-Aziz, Hossam Ghaly, Hady Khashaba, Khaled Bibo, Mohamed Gouda, Ahmed Abou-Mosalam, Alaa Ibrahim.
Real Madrid XI – Caesar, Aitor Karanka, Michel Salgado, Fernando Hierro, Roberto Carlos, Claude Makelele, Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Ivan Helguera, Salvio, Raul.
The game started off frantically, with Al Ahly on the back foot, as expected. The attacking prowess of Real Madrid was a joy to behold, and Zidane came close to scoring a beauty within the first five minutes of the match, with his free-kick going over the crossbar. Salvio then had a chance to open the scoring, after some brilliant work in the middle of the park by Portuguese legend Luis Figo. Figo lofted a ball over the Ahly defence which was latched onto by the striker, but the effort went just wide, to the relief of the sellout crowd in the stadium.
The pressure from the European giants was immense, and Roberto Carlos was next to go close on goal, with a left-footed piledriver from outside the box smartly saved by Egyptian goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary. The rebound was volleyed over the crossbar by Claude Makele, and it seemed as if it wasn’t a matter of if, but when the deadlock was to broken by the Spanish giants.
The best chance of the half for both sides then fell to Roberto Carlos, who hit another venomous strike from long range which had El-Hadary stranded. Fortunately for Al Ahly, the post got in the way, with the ball cannoning out off the inside of the upright, ultimately cleared by the shaken Ahly defence. Al Ahly, forced to attack on the counter, saw their best opportunity of the half squandered by Khaled Bibo, who fired over a first time volley late on in the first half. 0-0 at the break, and with Al Ahly on the backfoot, it looked almost inevitable that the Spanish giants would end the game with the win.
Despite all the pressure from Real Madrid in the first period, the second half started off with a bang. Al Ahly had a chance early on as a defensive mix up put Alaa Ibrahim through on goal. The striker tried a clever chip on the oncoming Caesar from a tight angle, but the shot was saved and the ball cleared from danger. A couple of minutes later, the home crowd were sent into raptures when Nigerian striker Sunday scored what is arguably the greatest goal in Al Ahly’s illustrious history. A driving run from Alaa Ibrahim saw the Real Madrid defence split open, with Hossam Ghaly racing onto the loose ball from a tackle and rounding the Madrid keeper. Sunday was in the middle, and duly put the ball into the back of the net after a selfless pass from Ghaly found the Nigerian in front of an open net from 3 yards out. 1-0 with 40 minutes left to play. The tides had turned, and with Al Ahly having weathered most of the Real Madrid attacking storm, they were now playing effectively on the counter attack.
Khaled Bibo had an opportunity to score less than 5 minutes after the opener, with the striker beating the keeper but not the post, with his effort cleared after the rebound. Bibo then had another chance to score, after some brilliant work down the wing by Alaa Ibrahim, who nutmegged Real Madrid legend Fernando Hiero, before squaring to the striker, who put the shot just wide of the goals with a curling right footed effort. Bibo, who could have had a hat trick on the day if luck was on his side, then almost scored an outrageous lofted effort in the 70th minute, controlling the ball in a one on one situation and lobbing the keeper brilliantly from outside the box. The strike was on target, but didn’t dip enough, rebounding off of the cross bar and into the grateful hands of Caesar. Madrid’s final chance came late on, with a brilliant El Hadary save denying a shot from distance. The rebound was squared into the box but Real Madrid couldn’t turn home the equaliser. The match ended 1-0 to Al Ahly despite the late pressure from the away side, arguably the greatest result in Al Ahly’s history, sending fans all over the world into delirium.
Next up is another one of Al Ahly’s wins. Albeit, not as massive of an event as the Real Madrid match, it’s up there as one of the best results the Reds have obtained against European opposition. AS Roma headed to Cairo for a friendly arranged between the two sides. The Giallorossi, boasting the talents of Brazilian World Cup winner Cafu, Argentinian legend Gabriel Batistuta and Italy/Roma legend Francesco Totti, named a full squad for the match, with many tipping them to win over the Al Ahly side, who just one year previously, had beat Real Madrid in the same stadium. The 11th of August, 2002 was the set date for the match, with over 100,000 fans crowding into the stadium to watch the second match against prestigious European opponents within the previous 12 months.
Al Ahly XI – Essam El-Hadary, Shadi Mohamed, Mohamed Amara, Ibrahim Said, Wael Gomaa, Yasser Radwan, Gilberto, Hossam Ghaly, Khaled Bibo, Evelino, Ahmed Bilal
AS Roma XI – Francesco Antonioli, Cafu, Jonathon Zebina, Walter Samuel, Traianos Dallas, Damiano Tommasi, Emerson, Candela, Pep Guardiola, Vincenzo Montella, Gabriel Batistuta
The lineup released by Italian coach Fabio Capello showed the intent of the Italian side, who appeared to not have travelled to Cairo for a loss. The first meaningful attack of the match came in the third minute, with Khaled Bibo showing his pace to Roma with a brilliant run down the right wing. The cross into the box was a good one, however, no Ahly players were there to meet it. The ball was cleared for a corner, which was cleared, with a shot from distance soaring over the cross bar from Al Ahly ultimately ending the play. After a period of play which yielded no real threats on goal from either side, Al Ahly won a corner in the 20th minute. Mohamed Amara sent a ball into the area from the left corner flag. Jonathon Zebina then attempted what looked like a headed backpass to his keeper, but Ibrahim Said was on hand to strike, sending his first time finish from inside the six yard box into the roof of the net to set the crowd wild.
Roma pushed forward on the attack following the opener, with Vincenzo Montella and Gabriel Batistuta coming close for the away side, with Egyptian custodian Essam El-Hadary on hand to stop any efforts on goal. In the 43rd minute Roma embarked on an attack, with the ball ultimately ending up at El-Hadary’s feet after a poor pass from midfield. El-Hadary played the ball out to Yasser Radian who found Hossam Ghaly in the middle of the park. Surrounded by Roma players throughout the midfield, as well as Pep Guardiola applying pressure on the youngster, Ghaly made a smart turn and nutmegged Guardiola before playing an inch perfect defence splitting through ball through the heart of the Roma defence out to the left wing. Ahmed Bilal latch on, opening his body up and curling an effort to the bottom right corner of the net, which Antonioli spilled to the feet of Evelino who placed the ball into an empty net to put Al Ahly 2-0 up just before the break.
Excitement ensued within minutes of the restart. In the 46th minute Khalid Bibo embarked on a driving run at the heart of the retreating Roma defence, firing a left footed shot from outside of the box into the arms of the Roma keeper. Roma launched a counter attack, and Pep Guardiola, who had found space in the midfield, dinked a delightful ball over the Ahly defence to Gabriel Batistuta. El-Hadary came out to diffuse the situation but Batistuta drew contact from the keeper and went down in the box. The referee pointed to the spot, and Vincenzo Montella duly slotted home the ensuing penalty, driving the ball into the bottom left corner of the net to make it 2-1. Attacks were oncoming from Roma at this point, with the Italian giants looking for the equaliser to spare their blushes in Cairo.
It became an uphill battle for Roma in the 61st minute. Khalid Bibo was played through on goal, and with searing pace to burn, Zebina, who couldn’t catch up to the diminutive Egyptian, committed a professional foul on the edge of the box. The referee showed no hesitation in showing a red card, leaving Roma to battle it out with 10 men for the remainder of the match. The resulting free kick was blasted into the hands of Antonioli by Mohamed Amara. AS Roma looked to attack despite their deficiency in numbers, and Candela went close in the 80th minute with a strike from distance, which was saved by El-Hadary. Al Ahly went close to doubling their lead in the 88th minute, with a swift counter attacking move ending up at the feet of substitute Abou-Mousalam on the left wing. The resulting shot was deflected and smartly saved by Antonioli with his feet to keep the scores at 2-1. The Red Devils held on, recording another famous victory in the process, much to the delight of the sell out crowd in attendance.