In the aftermath of the Zamalek vs Club Africain match which brought 5000 rioting fans onto the pitch, one thing lies forgotten. It was a gripping match with enough theatrics of its own. And it hinged around three defensive mistakes.
The most egregious of them by Zamalek’s standpoint was their goalie Abdel Wahed El-Sayed misjudging the flight of Ben Yahia’s powerfully struck free kick from 30 feet out. He starts to his right and by the time he recovers the ball swerves into the far left hand corner. El-Sayed’s reaction says it all. Club Africain had to endure a defensive mix up of their own as Hussein Yasser put Zamalek ahead just before halftime. The sparkling play of Mahmoud Fadlalla created that goal. In the end, Zamalek failed to capitalize on their away goal advantage with Ben Yahia’s strike proving costly. The Tunisian club advanced on a 5-4 aggregate despite being reduced to 10 men with Bilel Ifa given his marching orders in the 59th minute.
The optics has all been taken over by the riots and the injuries to the fans, players, and officials. The fans went after the Algerian referee for disallowing a late offside goal that would have made the difference. The pitch invasion raised the spectre of reigniting tensions between both countries brought to the fore when Algeria played Egypt in Cairo and Khartoum thereafter in the World Cup qualifiers. Egypt’s interim government was forced to exert damage control promising an investigation into the riots, condemning Zamalek fans for their “acts of thuggery”, and apologizing to the Tunisian team.
Egypt’s PM also conveyed a message that resonates with the newly configured Middle East acknowledging the Tunisian revolution as a catalyst to their own. The volatile situation was also somewhat mitigated by the very heroic spectacle of Zamalek players shielding the Club Africain players from the rampaging fans.
For Zamalek the penalties could be severe with the most damaging a possible 3 year sanction. Other Egyptian clubs could also face CAF’s wrath. The Algerian football federation has already decided that no more referees from their country will officiate in Egypt.