There was more Egyptian heartbreak as Al-Ahly met Palmeiras in the semifinal of the FIFA Club World Cup on Tuesday and lost 2-0. Here are five things that Arab News learned from the clash between the champions of Africa and South America.
1. Palmeiras were the better team
Taking on the South American champions was always going to be a tough ask, and so it proved. Palmeiras were well-organized and dominant in the opening half hour, pressed Al-Ahly hard and did not allow their opponents any meaningful chances. Six minutes before the break Raphael Veiga gave the Brazilian powerhouse a deserved lead. In the second half, Al-Ahly had more possession but were still unable to create the kind of clear chances necessary, and when Dudu added a second early in the second half then the Africans had a mountain to climb.
There was no coming back from that. There were some positives in that Al-Ahly responded well after conceding the goals and showed plenty of endeavour and spirit but just could not get back into the game. In the end, it fizzled out and Palmeiras ran out deserved winners to go into the final. They also got some measure of revenge for losing to the Egyptians last year.
2. A sad 48 hours for Egyptian football
The world watched on Sunday as Egypt lost the African Cup of Nations final against Senegal in a penalty shootout, always a heartbreaking way to exit a tournament. And then less than 48 hours later, Cairo giants Al-Ahly were defeated in another big game on the world stage. Neither national team nor club can have many complaints, but losing two big games in such quick succession must be a bitter pill to swallow.
Spare a thought especially for Ayman Ashraf. The defender quickly came to Abu Dhabi from Cameroon on Monday to join up with his club team and can’t have been in the best of moods after the penalty heartbreak. With nine minutes remaining against the Brazilians he was shown a straight red card for a rash challenge on Rony. It was already going to be hugely difficult for Al-Ahly to get back in the game but at that moment it was all over. It was a silly and dangerous challenge, though Ashraf’s apparent frustration was understandable given the events of this week and it summed up a difficult few days for Egyptian football.
3. Mosimane is right about the balance
Al-Ahly boss Pitso Mosimane complained about the format and scheduling of the tournament but these were no sour grapes after defeat; the South African made his feelings clear in the build-up. Why, he asked, did the African champions have to play a second-round game when the South American and European title-holders did not? “Africa will always be compromised when it comes to this,” he said. “We have to play Palmeiras who are rested. We have to play again. Why we have to play Palmeiras in the semifinals; why don’t they also play earlier also? What’s the criteria? Those are the realities that are happening. The scale is not proper (balanced) when it comes to Africa and Europe. But it’s a fact.” He’s right, it is a fact and the tournament suffers because of the preferential treatment that some teams get.
4. No complaints about VAR
Had there been no video assistant in Abu Dhabi then the outcome could have been different. With 18 minutes remaining, Palmeiras goalkeeper Weverton spilled a shot to present Mohamed Sherif with a simple tap-in. Suddenly the game was looking very interesting as there was enough time for the Egyptians to get a second and put real pressure on the opposition for the first time.
A quick review, however, showed that the striker was just offside and that was that. Nine minutes later, Ashraf was initially given a yellow card for his wild challenge on Rony but that was changed to a red after a quick look at the footage, meaning that the already slim hopes of a comeback were extinguished. In both cases, the right decision was reached after the review but there is a VAR-free alternative reality where Al-Ahly had 18 minutes to score just one goal with 11 men on the pitch rather than needing to score two with ten.
5. There’s still a big game to play
While it would be better to face one of Chelsea or Al-Hilal in the final with a chance to be world champions, a meeting in the third and fourth place play-off is still an attractive fixture. On the one hand, there could be a game to come against the European champions who are packed with global stars, and it is rare for an African team to take on such an opponent in a competitive fixture.
On the other hand, there could be an equally mouth-watering clash against Al-Hilal. It could be argued that Al-Ahly are the biggest Arab club in Africa and the Saudis are the biggest Arab club in Asia and it would be fascinating to see them meet on the international stage. This is the FIFA Club World Cup but could also become an official tournament to decide the club champion of the Arab world. It would have been great to have this in the final, but to have it at all is a rare treat.