Al Ahly take scenic route to the top
FIFA.com takes a look back over one of the most exciting top-flight seasons in the history of Egyptian football, which featured a title race that was still alive right into the competition's final week.
The title chase
For the first time in many years, Cairo-based giants Al Ahly were way off the championship pace for the entire first half of the campaign, having lost one and drawn eight of their opening 15 games to be stuck down in fifth place at the halfway stage. Arch-rivals Zamalek, meanwhile, were sitting pretty in pole position, three points clear of closest pursuers Ismaily, and for supporters of the White Knights and the Dervishes respectively, it looked as if Al Ahly’s six-season reign at the summit of Egyptian football might finally be drawing to a close.
However, during the three-month lay-off enforced by the outbreak of the Egyptian revolution, the Red Devils’ administration set to work on getting their house in order. Central to their plan was the return of their much-admired and vastly successful former coach Manuel Jose, who set about rallying his forces for a late tilt at the championship.
Jose’s charges promptly went unbeaten for the whole second half of the season, going on a run of ten wins and five draws that saw them overtake Zamalek - who lost three and drew six over the same period - with five matchdays remaining. They eventually finished five points clear, thus sealing a seventh successive league title in some style.
While familiar names like Mohamed Aboutrika and 2010 CAF African Player of the Year Ahmed Hassan failed to live up to their usual high standards, a number of lower-profile individuals seized their chance to shine. Top of that list was Zamalek and Egypt striker Mahmoud Abdel Razek, better known as Shikabala, whose tally of 13 goals put him top of the goalscorers' standings. A mention must also go to Al Ahly’s recent Mauritanian signing Dominique da Silva, his team-mate Ahmed Fathi, ENPPI forward Ahmed Abdel Zaher and Smouha’s Ghanaian midfielder Godwin Attram.
36 – The number of times the Red Devils have won the Egyptian League, compared to a total of 18 for all the country’s other clubs combined.
What they said
“Al Ahly aren’t even in the running: the battle is between us, Ismaily, ENPPI and Police Union. Those last three are our real rivals this season,” Zamalek director of football, Ibrahim Hassan, makes a rash prediction as the second half of the season gets underway.
“Some people have started handing out the prizes way too early. We’ll see who’s laughing in the end,” said Portuguese coach Manuel Jose after retaking the Al Ahly helm at the halfway point of the campaign, in response to claims that his club were out of title contention.