It has just been a little less than a year since the Port Said incident in Egypt that claimed the lives of 72 people and saw more than 1,000 injured. The sight of Al-Masry supporters, on February 1st, viciously attacking their fans, using knives, swords, and everything they could get their hands on, still resonates in the mind of an Al-Ahly supporter.
Ten months down, Al Ahly – the most established team in Africa took to the pitch against Japanese league winners, Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the FIFA Club World Cup earlier today. The Egyptian reds are the only team, along with Auckland City (New Zealand), to have the highest number of appearances at the tournament while winning a bronze medal for their efforts in 2006.
The likes of Wael Gomaa, Mohamed Barakat, Hossam Ghaly and the most accomplished of all current generation Egyptian players – Mohamed Aboutrika featured today. The team came into the game with only a few CAF Champions League matches played while their Japanese counterparts, bursting with vigor and momentum from recently being crowned as J-league champions, having beaten Oceania’s Auckland City a few days ago. The question of their match fitness existed prior to the beginning of the tournament, with the Egyptian League being suspended since that unfortunate incident.
The light flurries did not seem to bother the Egyptians. On the contrary, it seemed as if they had developed an immune to the conditions. Guess the presence was strengthened by their resolve towards the number that was displayed in the black armbands the team was adorning – 72.
First half was a tale of two teams. It started with the Ahmed Fathi – the full back providing an excellent ball to Hamdi who places the ball with his left foot in the coolest manner possible in the 15th minute. However, as the flurries got stronger, the Egyptians were feeling it. Having lost the captain through injury followed immediately with a weak defensive clearance led to a low lying shot by Sanfrecce captain Hisato which was difficult to stop by GK Ekramy. That brought the crowd right back into it. The momentum was with the Japanese since then. Good movement from the Japanese side saw them miss two sitters that otherwise should have been their lead by two goals.
(Photo Credit: Mike Hewitt via FIFA/ Mohamed Aboutrika celebrates after his winning goal against Sanfrecce Hiroshima)
The veteran Aboutrika does what he did best early in the second half. A patient build-up by the team in a round of play, which seemed like it was not going anywhere saw one highball towards Aboutrika. And it took was his strength and a low shot past the keeper to give Al Ahly the lead. Their opposition came alive in the last 10 minutes; one occasion being where Hisato broke the consistently ineffective offside trap of the Egyptians, eventually placing himself in a one on one situation with the GK. If only he took his time on the shot.
It was clearly a huge victory for Al Ahly after everything they had gone through this year. Their loyal fans will be ecstatic and so will be those who perished, if only they were alive to see this victory.
The winners go on to face a Brazilian side, which had an unbeaten 2012 Copa Libertadores’ run and also features one of Middle East’s very own “Qatari”- Brazilian, Emerson Sheik. One can go on to question the occasional defensive breakdown of the team which, all the while assuring will be capitalized by Corinthians.