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25.05.2019 Africa

Former Tottenham Manager Gross Aims To End Zamalek Trophy Drought

By AFP
.  By Yasuyoshi CHIBA (AFP)
MAY 25, 2019 AFRICA

Former Tottenham Hotspur manager Christian Gross believes the 16-year African trophy drought of famed Egyptian club Zamalek will end Sunday near ancient Mediterranean city Alexandria.

Coached by Gross, Zamalek lost 1-0 away to Moroccan outfit Renaissance Berkane last Sunday in the first leg of the CAF Confederation Cup final, the African equivalent of the UEFA Europa League.

The 64-year-old Swiss is convinced the 'White Knights' can overcame the deficit at the 86,000-seat Borg el Arab Stadium, with the crowd restricted to 60,000 for security reasons.

In 2003, Zamalek won a ninth African competition by beating Wydad Casablanca of Morocco 3-1 in the CAF Super Cup match.

However, the closest they have come to African glory since was finishing runners-up to South African side Mamelodi Sundowns in the 2016 CAF Champions League final.

"I am very sad we conceded a goal right at the end," said Gross, referring to the stoppage-time winner of Togo-born Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba in the first leg of the final.

"But we can come back at home and turn things around. We will fight to win the Confederation Cup for the sake of our supporters.

"We had several good scoring chances in Morocco, but could not convert them. I am sure it will be a different story in Alexandria.

"While Berkane are strong opponents with quality players, I promise our supporters we will give them something to cheer about."

Gross became Tottenham manager in November 1997 and two losses in three matches at the start of the 1998/1999 season triggered his dismissal.

Constant ridicule

He achieved only 10 victories in 30 matches at the London club and was the target of constant ridicule by sections of the media, particularly over his poor grasp of English.

After Tottenham, he coached clubs in Switzerland, Germany and Saudi Arabia with more success before being hired by Zamalek in July last year.

Gross inherited a team that had lived in the shadows of fellow Egyptian club and arch rivals Al Ahly for more than a decade.

While Zamalek last lifted an African trophy in 2003, Ahly have won 11 CAF titles in the past 16 years, including the Champions League five times.

Berkane, based in the citrus fruit-producing northeastern region of Morocco, are appearing in an African final for the first time after a last-eight exit from the 2018 Confederation Cup.

Their best known figure until recently was not a player, but an official as club chairman Faouzi Lekjaa is a vice-president of the Cairo-based Confederation of African Football (CAF).

But Laba is rising from anonymity with his eight Confederation Cup goals making him the leading scorer this season, one ahead of Sudanese Waleed Bakhet.

Berkane coach Mounir Jaouani is convinced the late Laba first-leg winner is going to prove decisive, labelling it "the goal that wins the title.

"We realise the second leg is going to be difficult, but the Confederation Cup is staying in Morocco," he promised. Raja Casablanca won the 2018 final.

The second leg kicks off at 2200 local time (2000 GMT) to allow players and supporters to eat and drink after the sunrise-to-sunset fast during the Muslim holy period of Ramadan.

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