Egypt FA break tradition to appoint local ref for Cairo derby

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For the first time in three years, an Egyptian referee will take charge of the Cairo derby tonight after the country’s football mother body turned down requests from Al Ahly and Zamalek to bring in a foreign official.

Experienced centre-man referee Mahmoud El-Banna, who has been blowing the whistle for eight years, has been assigned to officiate in the potentially explosive encounter by the Egyptian Football Association (EFA).

The EFA broke away from the tradition of appointing foreign referees for the derby despite objections from Ahly and Zamalek, who both agreed that it would be better not to change course as tensions often rise.

EFA officials, however, insist Egyptian referees have the pedigree to officiate at the high stakes tie.

Mohamed El-Hanafi was the last Egyptian official to take charge of one of Africa’s biggest derbies in 2018. Zamalek won that particular tie 2-1, a result which was insignificant as Ahly had already secured the League title.

This time, Zamalek are eyeing their first League crown since 2015 and they currently top the table with 33 points, six ahead of fourth-placed Ahly, who still have three matches in hand.

Zamalek, still licking their wounds following a painful loss to Ahly in the Caf Champions League final last November, will have a chance to go some way towards erasing that memory.

Even worse, the White Knights were knocked out of this year’s Champions League and their only hope of major silverware is the League.

The Red Devils, who are targeting a sixth consecutive league crown, will be without several regulars, including key goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shennawi, who tested positive for COVID-19.

Coach Pitso Mosimane will be a worried man as El-Shennawi’s understudy Ali Lotfi has been found wanting each time he has been thrown into the fray.

Unfortunately, whoever will be in between the sticks will have a makeshift backline in front of them with Moroccan Badr Benoun the only fit regular defender in their squad for the derby.

On the other hand, Zamalek almost have a fully fit squad to pick from. Versatile midfielder Emam Ashour and stand-in right-back Ahmed Eid are the only absentees.

Kick off is 21h30 [CAT] at the Cairo International Stadium.

RELATED STORY: Blow for Mosimane at Al Ahly

By Mthokozisi Dube 

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