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Ramadan Tales E11: Al Ahly’s tears of triumph and the spirit of 96
In Episode 11 of our Ramadan Tales, we take a look at the title race in the 1995/96 season which brought about references of the ’96 spirit’; the season when Al Ahly won the league against Zamalek’s ‘dream team’.
Back in 2010, Hossam El-Badry was well into his second season in charge of the Cairo giants having won the the league the first time around, losing the Egypt Cup through penalties and exiting the CAF Champions League in the semis rather controversially when Michael Eneramo scored with his hand to send Esperance to the final of the competition. There were certainly positives in El-Badry’s first season in charge, with many already looking forward to what the next season held for the Reds and their new young group of players including Ahmed Shoukry, Mostafa Afroto, Mohamed Talaat and Algerian wonderkid Amir Sayoud.
However things didn’t go as planned, Al Ahly were trailing 3-0 away from home against rivals Ismaily, before Ahmed Fathi scored from distance to make it 3-1. The game was traumatic, and Reds fans went as far as chanting against Hossam El-Badry, in a sort of caveat to the board: a change is needed if they wanted the league title to remain in Gezira, as opposed to heading to Mit Okba – the headquarters of arch rivals Zamalek – who were enduring a big resurgence under Egyptian football legend Hossam Hassan, it certainly wasn’t a coincidence that they were leading things.
El-Badry, acknowledging that the side was subpar, decided to depart with club legend Abdel Aziz Abdel Shafy ‘Zizo’ appointed interim manager. During his five game spell, Al Ahly drew four games including a 0-0 draw in the Cairo Derby against Zamalek on December 30, and a sole victory which came against Haras El Hodood.
Zizo left his post and in came legendary manager Manuel Jose at the start of January, who returned to the club where he had achieved a staggering 21 trophies in a total six seasons. However, things had changed, Zamalek were leading the league by six points. The Portuguese tactician drew his first game in charge, three days before the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, expanding the deficit to eight points.
The league resumed on April 13th 2011, and Al Ahly were as fiery as they revolution, winning nine games and drawing three before defeating Arab Contractors 5-1 to secure the club’s 36th league title, winning the league with one match-day to spare and a staggering five points ahead of rivals Zamalek.
Excellent comeback? Well, during what will go down as one of the greatest comebacks in Egyptian football history, one Al Ahly ultra group, Ultras Devils, hung a banner midway through the season that read ’96’ Spirit’. They were referencing what club legend Osama Oraby described as the “finest league title he’s ever won”, they were referring to the 1995/96 season, when the Reds made an ever more miraculous comeback to win the title.
Tears of joy and triumph
In 1995/96 Al Ahly were looking to win their third consecutive league title; meanwhile, Zamalek were anxious to win their first Egyptian Premier League since 1992. The Whites appeared to have done just that, as the then-dubbed ‘dream team’ were heads and shoulders above their arch-rivals dressed in red.
It was match-day 20, and Zamalek were top of the table, three pionts ahead of Al Ahly. The Whites were set to play Domyat, whilst the Red Castle had to face Mansoura. With only 10 games remaining there was no time for any of the two clubs to lose points. However, the Red Devils lost by one goal to nil courtesy of a Tamer Bagato goal; on the other hand, Zamalek eased past Domyat 3-1 to extend the gap to six points.
A week later, things started to get tasty as Zamalek drew 1-1 away from home against Al-Aluminium in Nagaa Hamady. Al Ahly comprehensively beat Tersana by five goals to nil to close the gap between them and the Whites to four points with just nine games to go. To add even more to the drama: Tersana, who were relegated that season – characterised by their ignominious defeat at the hands of Zamalek, caused an upset by drawing against the Whites 1-1 at the Cairo International Stadium. The same week saw Al Ahly edge closer to Zamalek when they beat Al-Qanah 2-1
The title race was hotter than ever between the two sides, Zamalek beat Ismaily 5-2 and just when they thought they had extended their lead over the Reds by four points, former Zamalek star Reda Abdelaal scored a 94th minute winner away to Gomhoreyet Shibeen in what was an awful pitch. The gap remained at two points in favor of the side from Mit Okba.
It was matchday 24 when Zamalek traveled to Suez to play city outfit Montakhab El Suez during the afternoon. The Whites’ ‘dream team’ came back to Cairo with only one point though after a one-all draw. That night, Al-Ahly fans filled the Cairo International Stadium as Al Ahly beat Ghazl El-Mahalla 2-0 which saw both teams level at the top of the table. Things were looking dire for Zamalek’s all-star side.
None of the sides dropped points between the matchday 25 and matchday 28, meaning that both teams were going into matchday 29’s Cairo Derby level with only one match to played afterwards. Win the Cairo Derby and the league is effectively yours.
Kadry Abdelazim blew his whistle in a late July night and one of the most anticipated Cairo Derbies was underway. Both sides were level at 66 points with a postive goal difference of 40 goals; however, Zamalek had scored six more goals than Al Ahly – meaning if both sides ended the league with the same amount of points the shield would ultimately be white – as the potential championship play-off was disallowed for the season. Thus Zamalek needed a point against Al Ahly and a win in their last game to paint the shield in white. On the other hand, Al Ahly needed all three points or there chances would be slim, very slim at that.
The White Castle were the more offensive side in the first half of the game. However, when both outfits came out of the tunnel for the second half the game completely changed. Al Ahly put pressure on the Zamalek defence and were finally able to break the deadlock in the 67th minute when Ahmed Felix hit the ball past Nader El-Sayed.
Al Ahly did not sit back and added more pressure on the Whites. The Reds scored again five minutes from time when Hesham Hefny put Hossam Hassan through on goal, before the striker slid the ball past Nader’s right-hand side. Zamalek players and coach, Ahmed Refaat, ran over to the referee claiming that Hossam Hassan was offside, but the Kadry Abdelazim decided to count the goal, prompting Zamalek players and staff to withdrew from the game, even though television replays showed otherwise.
Three golden points for the Reds which meant that only a draw would be enough to be crowned champions heading into matchday 30, and they drew indeed. Zamalek though lost their last game of the season meaning Al Ahly turned a six point deficit to a four point advantage against the then-dubbed ‘Fariq Al-Ahlam’ or dream team, to crown themselves champions for the third consecutive season.
We’re approaching the end of the 2014-2015 season and Zamalek have four games to go with one game in hand over Al Ahly. There’s a six point gap between the two sides in favor for the White Castle. Zamalek only need 4 points from the remaining four games to win the league. The Cairo Derby is coming up, could we see a miraculous comeback again in a season where at one time Zamalek had a 13 point advantage over their rivals? Or is it too much? Leave your comments below.