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Out of Africa
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 05 - 05 - 2015

Ahly fans thought it couldn't get worse after their famed club quickly and dangerously fell behind in the title race in the Egyptian league until the unexpected happened. The Egyptian red-shirted giants, who are the African team of the century and record eight-time African champions, bowed out of the CAF Champions League in round 16 for the second year in a row in embarrassing fashion after losing 4-2 on penalties against Moghreb Tetouan after the tie ended in a 1-1 aggregate.
After a 1-0 defeat away in Morocco, Ahly was still expected to defeat the Moroccan team on aggregate and qualify to the group stage, and a 42nd minute goal from Abdullah Al-Said indicated so. However, a dull second half witnessed very few chances from the home side. As the minutes passed, the away side started to gain confidence and attack more. The visitors came ever so close to killing the tie when Sherif Ekrami saved brilliantly from Mortada Fall from close range minutes after Mohsen Yajour sent a rocket inches wide of the goal. The game ended in a 1-0 win for Ahly so penalties were needed to decide the tie.
Unfortunately, Trezeguet and team captain Hossam Ghali both missed and Ekrami failed to save any of the away side's penalties to see Moghreb Tetouan win 4-2 on penalties. The result was shocking but at the same time expected given the terrible form of the Egyptian club in recent weeks. The club has also been suffering from clashes between their Spanish coach Juan Carlos Garrido and key players such as veteran Emad Meteb who played for only the last three minutes and as a result refused to take one of the penalties.
It was déjà vu after Ahly was unceremoniously dumped out of last year's Champions League in the same round of 16, at that time by Libyan outfit of the same name, Ahly.
Following the loss, Ahly announced it had let go of Garrido who was replaced with stopgap Fathi Mabrouk, a former Ahly defender who usually takes over for a few games until a permanent replacement is found.
After bowing out of the Champions League, Ahly will now have the compensation of defending their Confederations Cup triumph after winning it – the first Egyptian club to do so -- with Garrido last year in the first few months of his tenure. But the shocking elimination from the more prestigious Champions League is considered even more depressing as it adds to the club's national misery. The Egyptian giants who easily won the league title eight times in the last 10 years -- with the other two seasons cancelled over security concerns -- find themselves dropping out of the title race of the domestic competition for the first time in more than a decade.
Ahly are trailing their biggest rivals Zamalek by 11 points with 14 games yet to be played. Some people might say there is still many games left and that anything can happen in 14 games but the issue here is that Ahly's performances are getting worse and worse by the game and their recent showings indicate that the gap will only get bigger and bigger not the opposite way round.
Zamalek on the other hand are looking more impressive than ever and seem focused on just one thing -- winning the title. At the moment, they are rarely dropping points and are deadly in attack and stubborn at the back. The group toppers have not conceded a single goal in their last four outings. The last time they allowed a goal or dropped points was a month ago when they drew 1-1 with second place Enppi which was not a bad result given that the petroleum club is currently second.
Zamalek's White Knights, as they're called by their fans, are simply outstanding this year and it seems that no team is capable of stopping them if they continue their torrid pace. The figures speak for themselves.
In 24 games played, the club has won 17 games, drew six and lost only one, against Enppi nearly four months ago. That was the game that saw 22 people killed in a stampede at the Air Defence Stadium and which forced the league to stop for seven weeks.
Zamalek also scored 40 goals which makes them the second best attack in the league after the remarkable Enppi which has scored 51 goals but has played two games more. Zamalek have the stingiest defence, conceding only 12 goals, making them the best defence in the league.
The figures show how determined the Zamalek club is to win their first league title since 2004. One just can't see how they will let the title slip away from them if they continue playing the way they are especially that both Ahly and Enppi are experiencing mixed fortunes at best.
In other national league matches, Enppi drew with Al-Shorta 1-1 while Ahly lost against the Arab Contractors 1-0.
Some Zamalek fans are already celebrating the title this season and are making fun of Ahly's terrible run of performances on social media, with the biggest jokes revolving around Garrido who's helping Zamalek in every way possible according, to the jokesters.
One comic said, “Zamalek renews Garrido's contract for five more years after the Spanish coach helped make Ahly a mid-table club”. Another Zamalek fan said, “Please give Garrido more time to prove his worth or at least until the end of the season to ensure Zamalek wins the league.”
Mahmoud Taher, the club's president, had insisted up until last week that Garrido was staying till the end of the season even though the club is in a wholly unfavourable position in the league table.
Zamalek is now top with 57 points from 24 games while Enppi is second with 54 points from 26 games, two more than Zamalek, and Ahly is third with 46 points from 24 games which means that even maximum points from the two postponed games will not see Ahly move to even second place.
The coming weeks will be pivotal for all three clubs with each knowing that any lost point might cost them dearly, especially Enppi and Ahly who hope that Zamalek might stumble at some point.
The writer is a freelance journalist.

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