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Ramadan Tales S02E07 – Contractors’ miraculous domestic double
This episode of our Ramadan Tales series takes a look at the most miraculous domestic double in Egyptian football history; the year where Arab Contractors – led by a certain Hasssan Shehata – beat both Cairo giants en route to winning both the Egypt Cup and the Super Cup.
You could say football is an ‘inaccurate science’. Every team participating in a competition can dream of winning it. In opposition to that, all across the world, in every country, every league, every tournament, there is what some may call the usual suspects. Depending on the country, there is usually from two to four teams regularly expected to win the honors at stake every year. Egypt is no different. The country’s top two teams – Al Ahly and Zamalek – are always the usual suspects. The two traditional outfits have historically dominated football in Egypt, and have rarely let a trophy slip outside of their combined realm.
However, every now and then the magic of football takes effect to produce immense surprises – or ‘miracles’, as some fans call it – that stay engraved in the collective football memory for years. This is exactly the premise of this episode of this season’s Ramadan Tales.
Lets dive straight into the context of today’s story:
Egypt Cup 2003-2004. The competition is underway and Arab Contractors SC, former giants in the 80s, and established Egyptian Premier League team, are playing second division football under the tutelege of the then relatively small name in the coaching world, Hassan Shehata. The Zamalek legend – who went on to become one of the country’s footballing icons as a manager as well – lined up his team so well, that they were able to secure promotion back to the top flight after their relegation in 2002/03.
Nothing too fantastic you will say, a second tier club gaining promotion. However, the Mountain Wolves were packing a heavy punch and not a small one. After all, Shehata and his men had already reached the Egypt Cup final, dispatching three Egyptian Premier League clubs in the process, including Egypt’s so-called ‘third giants – Ismaily, who finished the 2003-2004 season in third place. The Mountain Wolves had not only qualified for the final, but they also were going to take it by storm, defeating Al Ahly in a game which is still talked about until this very day.
The encounter itself did not disappoint, as Al Ahly opened the scoring in the 35th minute through Mohamed Gouda to put his team up 1-0. No less than three minutes later, the ambitious underdogs brought the game back level through Robert Akoroy.
With 10 minutes remaining, and with the score still at 1-1, Al Ahly were dealt a massive blow when goalkeeper Amir Abdel-Hamid picked up an injury. Unable to continue, legendary Reds coach Manuel Jose found himself in a sticky situation since Al Ahly had already put on their three substitutes. The then-newly appointed coach therefore pointed at Shady Mohamed (who would go on to become the iconic club captain under Jose) to take Abdel-Hamid’s place between the sticks. Nevertheless, Al Ahly kept pushing for a second, and six minutes later, the Red Devils saw the referee award them a penalty. Mohamed Gouda – who scored the opener – failed to convert it – much to everyone’s surprise. To add to the suspense, Arab Contractors midfielder Alaa Abdel-Ghani got himself sent off only one minute later, to reduce both sides to 10 men.
With six minutes of added time to play, both sides were still pushing for a winner, and in the first minute of additional time, the unexpected happened. Mohamed Aly, Contractors’ full-back made a lung-bursting run to recover a lost cross from the right-side before launching a perfect cross to Mohamed Fahim. The Wolves’ front-man unleashed a towering header above Shady Mohamed, who could only watch the ball as it found the net.
Hassan Shehata’s men held on tight to secure the club’s third ever Egypt Cup, all while playing second division football, in one of the most shocking results in Egyptian football history.
The Nasr City outfit were not finished however, reserving football fans across Egypt another big caliber surprise.
10th of September 2004. Then Egyptian Premier League champions Zamalek were looking to complete a domestic double via the Egyptian Super Cup, having faced an ignominous knockout at the hands of Tersana in the second round of the Egypt Cup only three months prior. The White Castle were fresh of a dominating league run that saw them lift the trophy that season without losing a single league game, and only Arab Contractors stood in their way. Despite the Wolves’ surprising win against Al Ahly in the Cup final, nobody in the White Knights camp was truly losing sleep over that game as it was still considered a long shot for the Hassan Shehata’s men to grab the win against the Mit Okba side.
Nevertheless, Shehata’s men went on to completely outclass Zamalek in a scintillating 4-2 win to bring home the club’s first (and only) Egypt Super Cup to date.
The game, held on a Friday night at El Koleya El-Harbeya, was nothing short of exciting. Only nine minutes into the game, Contractors forward Tamer Adel received a perfect pass on the edge of Zamalek’s penalty area; he controlled the ball really well, before unleashing a powerful low shot into the bottom right corner to make it 1-0.
Eight minutes later though, the White Knights came knocking, finding the net through club icon Medhat Abdel-Hady. With Zamalek now signaling their presence into the game, the audience were expecting Stepanovic’s men to take the lead. Except that five minutes after the equalizer, Shehata’s men brought out another rabbit out of their hat when attacking midfielder Talaat Moharam finished a great attacking build-up with a sublime chip over the rushing Abd El-Wahed El-Sayed in order to restore Contractors’ lead.
One minute before half-time, though, referee Reda El-Beltagi awarded the Whites a penalty kick. Abdel-Hady – who had already scored his team’s first goal – stepped up, and successfully converted the spot-kick to make it 2-2, leaving everything to be done in the second half.
The second period kicked off quite slowly, despite both teams’ eagerness to create something. However, that Arab Contractors team was simply not going to offer the audience anything else, but a miracle on that day. With 63 minutes on the clock, central midfielder Ayman Zein released a scorching low shot from outside the box that found its way between three Zamalek players before beating El-Sayed on his right side. The Wolves were now leading the game for the third time of the night, and Shehata’s men were not planning on losing the lead another time.
Seven minutes later, first half scorer Tamer Adel came back for more. The forward, well positioned inside the White Knights box, recovered a stray ball after a shot from outside the box had sent it bouncing on Abd El-Wahed El-Sayed left side. Adel then proceeded to perfectly place the ball between the near post and Zamalek’s goalkeeper; 4-2.
With the scoreline now being 4-2 in favor of the underdogs, Shehata and his men had to overcome a nerve-racking final twenty minutes. To add to the difficulty of the mission, Tamer Adel – who was Contractors’ undisputed hero that night – was sent-off a minute after scoring his second goal, leaving his team shorthanded for the remainder of the game.
Nevertheless Shehata’s men held on tight until the final whistle in order to write one of Egypt’s craziest domestic football stories. Shehata – who was trophyless as manager back then – guided a second divison side to promotion, he’d won the domestic cup against Al Ahly, and he’d won the Egyptian Super Cup against Zamalek, all in one calendar year.