Like the rest of Egypt’s teams, Al-Ahly hasn’t played a domestic match since the Port Said tragedy, where rioting at a Feb. 2 soccer match in the Egyptian port city let to the deaths of 74 spectators. Al-Ahly, one of Egypt’s clubs, were facing Al-Masry that day, with players and coaches left scrambling to escape as Masry supporters surged onto the field.
In March, security concerns forced the country’s soccer federation to cancel the remainder of the Premier League season. Egypt hasn’t played since. (They’re now scheduled to resume play in December).
Since February, the only soccer seen by Al-Ahly and Zamalek (Egypt’s other big club) has been in African Champions League. Both teams played their way through initial rounds and into this summer’s eight-team group stage where the Cairo-based rivals were grouped together with former champions TP Mazembe (DR Congo) and Ghanians Berekum Chelsea.
While Zamalek stumbled, Al-Ahly finished at the top of the group, their only loss coming in DR Congo. Three matches later, and the Egyptians found themselves in Tunis, facing continental power Esperance one week after a 1-1 draw in Alexandria swung momentum in the CAF Champions League final toward the Tunisians.
But as any cynic would note, momentum is only a goal away:
(Al-Ahly is in blue. Esperance is in the yellow and red)
Your goal scorers were Geddo (putting home a 43rd minute setup from Al-Sayed Hamdy), Walid Soliman (with an amazing piece of skill before a great finish), and Cameroonian Yannick N’Djeng (who pulled Esperance within a goal of the title).
“Ahly deserved the victory as they dominated the entire game,” Esperance coach Nabil Maaloul admitted after the match.
For Al-Ahly, the win clinches their seventh continental title (a record), though the story of where they’ve been is more compelling that the accumulation of another trophy.
Forward Mohamed Aboutrika, one of the players on the field at Port Said, initially retired from soccer in the wake of February’s tragedy. “I will not play football again,” he told the club’s television station.
“People here are dying and no one is doing a thing. It’s like a war,” Aboutrika said. “Is life this cheap?”
Midfielder Mohamed Barakat said there would be “no football after [Port Said],” while forward Emad Moteab told Al-Ahly TV he would not play again until there was “retribution for the people that died.”
Nine months after considering the end of their careers, all three were on the bench today, Aboutrika getting a late runout in place of Hamdy.
After the team’s victory, the trio is on their way to Japan, their team set to represent Africa at next month’s Club World Cup.
West Bromwich rejects latest bid from Man City for Evans
Manchester City’s latest transfer target is a Premier League veteran, but he’s not going without a fight.
West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Pulis confirmed that the club had rejected a transfer bid for former Manchester United centerback Jonny Evans from Manchester City. It’s reported that the transfer bid was worth $23.2 million and that Man City are willing to up it to around $28.3 million, though Pulis isn’t budging.
“We have turned down an offer for Jonny,” Pulis said. “We do not want to sell Jonny and we do not need to sell him. It would have to be a very, very good offer.
“Jonny understands the situation and where everything is. Jonny is happy here and wants to get on with his football. He is one of our best players. We all understand where we are.”
Evans has made 61 starts over the past two seasons for West Bromwich but it’s a question as to whether he’d be first choice at Manchester City, with Vincent Kompany, John Stones and even Nicolas Otamendi ahead of Evans in the pecking order.
Meanwhile, it doesn’t make sense for West Bromwich to sign one of its top players at this point in the transfer window, with less than a month to find a replacement in both the dressing room and on the field.
For all the talk about needing to improve defensively over the offseason, Man City manager Pep Guardiola has so far only been able to bring in new fullbacks, but perhaps his 3-5-2 formation displayed in the opening match of the season can provide more defensive stability for the team, even if Kompany misses extensive time with injury like in the past.
Pique: For first time in career, Barca star feels “inferior to Madrid”
And for the first time in his life, he thinks Barca is a step behind its El Clasico enemies. From The Telegraph:
“This is a long process and there is room for improvement but in the nine years that I have been here, it is the first time that I feel inferior to Madrid,” Piqué said. “We are not in the best moment, either as a team or as a club. We must stay as close as possible and keep moving forwards.”
Barcelona looked very poor in the second leg of the Super Cup, though the club did hammer the woodwork on multiple occasions. Real is the best team in the world, which makes being its rival a real hassle.
In fact, both clubs have been 1-2 in the world for some time, which has to make it extra perplexing when you’re No. 2 to only the club you despise more than any other.
“Naturally, nobody is happy about not playing international this year,” center back Benedikt Howedes told ProSoccerTalk. “During the week we currently have more time to focus on the next opponent. We will battle the European positions with many teams this season. I think, the race is up in the air. The Bundesliga is very balanced.”
Schalke’s tumulutous 2016-17 season started poorly and never really found its footing. The club lost its first five league matches under Markus Weinzierl, who was fired in June, and saw marquee transfers Naldo, Breel Embolo, and Coke miss a lot of time through injuries.
In the case of Nastasic, who won the Premier League with Manchester City in 2013-14, his 24 years carry a lot of experience. He’s thrived at Fiorentina, become a staple of the Serbian national team, and rebounding from his injury-hit time at City and is a leader at Schalke.
And those young guys can learn from Nastasic, who’s seen it all at 24.
“When I just arrived in Italy I was only 18 and it was the first year out of my country,” Nastasic told PST. “I didn’t expect at the beginning that I would play that much. Then I changed to England, and it was totally different. Italy is more tactical. Football in England is physical with a lot of tempo and running. I was young also without so much experience but when I was fit I think I played good.”
Schalke will need its young attack to find more goals. Its defense was Top Five in goals conceded last season, but its 45 goals was mid-table.
“Everyone knows that last season was not as good as we had expected,” Howedes said. “With our new coach, we want to improve our game and make our fans happy again. We are training hard and I am sure, that we will be more constant and improve our performances this season.”
“From the team I expect a much better season than last year,” Nastasic adds. “We are not playing international games so maybe that’s an advantage for us. We can concentrate on the Bundesliga.”
Both Nastasic and Howedes heaped praise on McKennie, as well as American teammate Haji Wright, who will spend the season on loan to Sandhausen, and the game overseas in general.
“Haji Wright started spectacular,” Howedes said. “For young players the most important thing is to play. On loan in Sandhausen the chance is greater than here. I rejoice for him he get this opportunity. The step in the 2.Bundesliga can be a good beginning of his career.
“The American soccer is really developing the last years. It is no coincidence that a lot of great players like Kaka and Gerrard joined Major League Soccer. And who knows, I also can imagine to play there some day in the future.”
Different champs (but probably not different champs): Bayern Munich will neither have Xabi Alonso nor Philipp Lahm this season, but that doesn’t mean they are runaway favorites to claim its 27th title and sixth-straight since Borussia Dortmund’s two-year reign ended with the 2011-12 crown. Carlo Ancelotti has reloaded with James Rodriguez and Corentin Tolisso, and will be favored to hold off BVB for the crown.
Here’s to the new Bosz: USMNT phenom Christian Pulisic is already making an impact in the mind of his new coach, Peter Bosz, and the manager will be pleased to note that reports say Pulisic has no interest in looking into his future until after the 2018 World Cup.
Sleepers? Eintracht Frankfurt dropped into 11th last season, and may benefit from not finishing in a European place. The club has added Mexican national teamer Carlos Saucedo, Dutch star Jetro Willems, and well-traveled Jonathan De Guzman for its new season.
Americans Abroad: John Brooks (Wolfsburg)
Julian Green (Stuttgart)
Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)
Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach)
Timothy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Bobby Wood (Hamburg)
Aron Johannsson (Werder Bremen *expected to be sold)
Caleb Stanko (Freiburg)
Old faces, new places: Serge Gnabry (Hoffenheim, on loan from Bayern Munich)
Mahmoud Dahoud (Borussia Dortmund, from ‘Gladbach)
Mathew Leckie (Hertha BSC, from Ingolstadt)
Sven Bender (Bayer Leverkusen, from BVB)
Marcel Heller (Augsburg, from Darmstadt)
Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Hamburg, from Bayer)
John Brooks (Wolfsburg, from Hertha)
Paul Verhaegh (Wolfsburg, from Augsburg)
Holger Badstuber (Stuttgart, from Bayern)
New faces, new places: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich)
Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha BSC) Reece Oxford (Gladbach, on loan from West Ham)
Jonathan de Guzman (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Jetro Willems (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Carlos Salcedo (Eintracht Frankfurt) Viktor Fischer (Mainz)
Opening weekend Bayern Munich vs. Bayer Leverkusen — Friday
Hamburg vs. Augsburg — Saturday
Hertha Berlin vs. Stuttgart — Saturday
Hoffenheim vs. Werder Bremen — Saturday
Wolfsburg vs. Borussia Dortmund — Saturday
Mainz vs. Hannover 96 — Saturday
Schalke vs. RB Leipzig — Saturday
Freiburg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt — Sunday
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Koln — Sunday
FC Barcelona wants to express its profound sorrow and utter disgust at the terrorist attack that has hit the heart of our city, la Rambla de Barcelona. The Club wishes to send our support and thoughts to the victims, their families and friends as well as the people of Barcelona and its visitors.
As a mark of respect, the flags will fly at half-mast at the Club’s facilities and the players from both teams will wear black armbands in all the Club’s matches this weekend.
On Sunday, before the 2017/18 La Liga opener against Betis, the Camp Nou will hold a minutes silence in recognition and memory of the victims.