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Preview: Big challenges ahead of Koka, Ghazal in Portugal
KingFut’s Omar Niyazi previews the 2016/17 Primeira Liga season, and assesses the challenges ahead of Egypt’s pharaohs in Portugal.
The Portuguese Primiera League has been a stepping stone for a number of Egyptian players over the past few seasons. Saleh Gomaa, Marwan Mohsen, Ali Fathy and Mahmoud Ezzat are a few of those player who have made the journey into Portugal, a league which has been a solid stepping stone for players from all around the world looking to make it in the European game. Of the various Egyptian exports in the past few seasons, only two currently remain, and today we look at their chances of glory this season, in both the Portuguese League as well as on a continental level.
Ahmed Hassan ‘Koka’ (SC Braga)
Ahmed Hassan ‘Koka’ has been a mainstay in Portugal for quite some time now. Koka, who left Cairo giants Al Ahly to pursue a career in Europe at the tender age of 19, begun his journey at the modest Rio Ave. Koka – now one of the main strikers for the Egyptian National team – has gone from strength to strength since moving abroad, is now plying his trade for giants Sporting Clube de Braga, who signed the forward on a permanent basis from Rio Ave in August of last year.
Koka managed to net 14 goals for his new side in league competition last season, adding another one in the Portuguese Cup and three in the UEFA Europa League. His performances in the Europa League were quite special, with a goal against French side Marseille, a sumptuous chip from a tight angle, being voted in the top 10 goals of last seasons competition.
This season will be key, not just for Koka but for Braga as well. In June of this year, Braga signed former Al Ahly manager Jose Peseiro on a two year deal after Peseiro was sacked by FC Porto. Braga will be competing in three competitions this season, the Portuguese Primiera Liga, the Taca da Liga (Portuguese Cup) and the UEFA Europa League. With giants FC Porto and Benfica to compete with, the main objective for Koka and his side this season would be European qualification, something which could definitely be achieved with the squad that Peseiro now manages.
Aly Ghazal (CD Nacional)
Aly Ghazal is the only other Egyptian currently plying their trade in the Portuguese League at the moment, although the transfer market is still open. Ghazal has also been a consistent piece of the puzzle at his side, CD Nacional, making the move to Portugal back in 2013 from Wadi Degla in the Egyptian Premier League. Now aged 24, Ghazal has reportedly attracted attention from a host of European sides with some solid performances for his side over the past two full seasons. Lazio, Hamburg and FC Porto are some of the reported sides who have shown an interest.
Ghazal plays in the defensive midfield position on most occasions, but can also provide adept cover as a centre back. The Egyptian made 27 starting appearances for Nacional in the Portuguese League last season, as well as a further 4 in the League Cup. Nacional will be hoping for an improvement this season, missing out on a place in European competition after a disappointing campaign in which the Madeira based club finished 11th in the league.
As with Braga, the main objective for Ghazal and his side would be to qualify for European competition for next season, with the league title a long shot; other sides such as Porto, Sporting and Benfica being the heavy hitters. A cup run could also be on the cards, with Nacional making it to the last 16 in the competition last season before narrowly losing out to Marwan Mohsen’s former side, Gil Vicente.
The competition this season sees quite a shortage of Egyptian talent in comparison with previous editions. However, the Egyptians currently in Portugal are more than capable of performing well, both on a team and individual level. This season could be defining for the Koka and Ghazal, who at 23 and 24 years of age respectively, will be looking to make an impact and perhaps gain some interest from bigger sides in Portugal or around Europe.