It’s being said by some people in some parts that Ahly might be willing to let Zamalek win their African Champions League match in the hopes that Zamalek might in the end be able to sneak into the semi-finals of the tournament in which, if this were to happen, there will be not one but two Egyptian clubs in the final four.
Before hurling anymore serious allegations, let’s be crystal clear: Should Ahly be so magnanimous against their great rivals in tomorrow’s derby, it will not be because of the money. Nobody is talking about the Ahly players receiving bribes. Should Ahly be knocked down without a punch being thrown, it would be for purely nationalistic purposes.
Of course, this does not make the infraction any less serious, but since we are treading on slippery ground, one must be careful what he says. When a team intentionally loses a game to obtain a perceived future competitive advantage – or in this case, to help out a buddy in need rather than gamblers being involved – the team is often said to have tanked the game instead of having thrown it. In organized sports, match fixing or game fixing occurs when a match is played to a completely or partially pre-determined result.
Playing with words aside, they all basically mean the same thing: one team is not playing as hard as possible to win.
Soccer fixing happens all the time, on the world’s best teams, in the best leagues and among the most famed players. Just after Italy won the 2006 World Cup, Juventus, Lazio and Fiorentina were relegated to the Italian second division as punishment for being implicated in rigging games by selecting favorable referees. Juventus were also deducted 30 points from their total for the next season and stripped of their last two league titles.
Referee Robert Hoyzer was sentenced to two years and five months in prison after taking bribes to fix soccer games in Germany.
In the 1982 World Cup, a 1-0 victory by West Germany over Austria sent those two teams to the second round on goal differential ahead of Algeria. West Germany scored early, and neither team made any real effort to score again.
Spain needed to win by 11 goals to qualify for Euro 1984 ahead of Holland. Spain went one better, defeating Malta 12-1.
Franz Beckenbauer, one of the best players in history, admitted his club Bayern Munich deliberately threw a Bundesliga match more than 40 years ago to ensure city rival TSV 1860 Munich did not win the title for a second year running.
And the best coach in the world, Manchester United s Alex Ferguson, once suggested a Champions League quarter-final draw had been fixed. Whenever the Egyptian league winds down, and a frantic attempt is made by teams who wish not to be among the three to be relegated, there are always claims of fixed matches. But how can you prove cheating?
Unless a party directly involved squeals, it is virtually impossible to uncover a fixed match; you can only guess. Definitely, if tomorrow Ahly goalkeeper Amir Abdel-Hamid fluffs an easy shot, if the club’s premier striker Abou-Trika scuffs an easy chance at goal, if defender Wael Gomaa suddenly slips, allowing a marauding forward a free pass at goal, many people will cry foul.
Ahly can afford to throw, tank or fix tomorrow’s game, but would have to at least tie with ASEC of Ivory Coast – should ASEC defeat Dynamos of Zimbabwe – to ensure semi-final passage. Losses to both Zamalek and ASEC could force Ahly into a second-place finish, and thus the loss of home territory advantage in the knockout stages. Or worse, if the stars are aligned in just the right way, Ahly could conceivably be knocked out altogether.
So why in the world should Ahly show Zamalek any generosity when, in addition, there is no love lost between the two? Ahly, which translates as The National, wear the old red colors of the pre-colonial flag. They were seen as the team for the nation, a bulwark against British occupation and a chance for the average man on the street to come together for a common nationalistic cause.
Zamalek, in white, were considered the team of the foreigner (aka the British) and the outsider. The team traditionally attracted the British, their allies, the authors, poets and intellectuals who were uneasy with Egypt s newfound nationalistic confidence. In the red corner you had the poor and the proud; in the white the liberal and bourgeois. Today the divisions still remain.
A game lost deliberately could come back to haunt Ahly in the end. What if Zamalek and Ahly meet in the final and Zamalek win?
Even if Ahly play dead, that might not be enough for Zamalek who will also have to beat Dynamos on their territory to make it to the semis.
Tomorrow, Ahly may be a good sport. Then again, they may decide not to be.