Sports Talk: A sure winner

Alaa Abdel-Ghani
5 Min Read

This column has made a habit of making mildly famous wrong predictions. It is today’s marked objective to kick the habit by making the following forecast: An Egyptian team will win this year’s African Champions League.Why will this confident conjecture be any different from the rest? For one, Egypt is the only country fielding two clubs, Ahly and Zamalek, in the final eight, meaning that a club from Pyramids land has a better mathematical chance of lifting the cup than its six rivals.Both clubs have won the trophy five times each, jointly tied for the record, making history and experience other reasons to bet on a Pharaohs side with your eyes closed.The two are strongly motivated for reason No 3: Ahly would love to avenge their final leg defeat last year at the feet of Tunisia’s Etoile du Sahel while Zamalek have not been to the group stage of the event since 2005 and have won nothing at all, local or foreign, since 2004. Then there is the weakness of the opposition. ASEC get Ahly for the second season running, but the Ivorians sold many of their best players since their quarter-final appearance last season. Though ASEC claimed a historic ninth appearance at the group phase of the Champions League since the tournament’s inception 13 years ago, and it is the fourth successive time ASEC reach the group phase since 2005, they are under achievers once in the group stage. Dynamos might be boosted by their shocking elimination of holders Etoile. But other than that, Harare’s only other moment of success was a final appearance in 1998. In Group B, Enyimba of Nigeria were winners in 2003 and 2004 but in light of the speed in which soccer teams change, those dates are light years away. TP Mazembe also won it twice but that was when the country was called Zaire and the team Englebert, in 1967 and 1968. Hilal of Sudan were semi-finalists last year and in fact buried Ahly 3-0 in Khartoum but that was after Ahly had raced to three consecutive wins, picking up some complacency along the way. Coton Sport defeated former African champions J.S. Kabylie 3-0 to get this far, but since they are making their entry into this stage of the competition for the first time in franchise history, expect a humble performance. So the group stage is hardly daunting, especially with the absence of the Maghreb region. Of the North African superpowers that usually dominate this stage of the competition, only Ahly and Zamalek qualified for the group stages. To put that into context, last year only ASEC represented sub-Saharan Africa in the group stages. If anything, the Champions League’s younger sibling, the Confederation Cup, normally the weaker of the two competitions, has surpassed its big brother in superiority this year, with the likes of Tunisian giants Esperance, defending champion Sfaxien and warriors Asante Kotoko arriving in round 16. Ahly go into the group stage comforted by the new deal struck by their coach Manuel Jose who until recently was thought to be abandoning ship. But the Portuguese, who has brought three Champions League titles to Ahly, is staying following a 10 percent increase in salary which takes his annual fee to $1 million, $200,000 (not bad for Egypt but soudani when compared to England manager Fabio Capello’s $1 million a month).But helmsman and Dutchman of Zamalek Ruud Kroll appears to be leaving and no replacement appears on the horizon. Henri Michel’s name is bandied about, as is Philippe Troussier, but it’s all hearsay.Zamalek are also disadvantaged by playing their first three games at home when conventional wisdom dictates it would have been better had the draw allowed Zamalek to save some of the Cairo matches for the second legs.When they met in the semi-finals in the 2005 edition, Ahly won both games 2-1 and 2-0. We can’t say for sure if that makes Ahly more confident or primes Zamalek for revenge. What we can say for certain is one of them will be standing alone with the trophy some time in November. We’re going out again on a limb. Hope this time the whole tree doesn’t come crashing down.

Share This Article
Leave a comment