Seven time Club World Cup holders, Real Madrid are set to face 10-time African champions, Al Ahly of Egypt this Wednesday in the semi-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup in Rabat.
This is potentially an epic clash. But it is not the first encounter of the two teams. Before this match-up, both had met 22 years ago in 2001 and Al Ahly were winners by an odd goal.
It was at the ocassion of Al Ahly being proclaimed as the African ‘Club of the Century’. At the time, Real Madrid were the European champions.
But as Egypt’s Ahram puts it, 2001 was not one of the Real Madrid’s best years. They had endured their worst domestic league performance under Vicente del Bosque’s management, finishing only third in the league standings as well as losing the Copa del Rey final at the Bernabéu to unheralded Deportivo La Coruna.
In addition, they were narrowly knocked out by Bayern Munich in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League, their signature tournament and the reason for their enormous fame and success.
However, they had begun a new policy of signing the world’s greatest players, one every year, under new president Florentino Perez with a goal of making Real Madrid the most fashionable club in the world. They were dubbed the Galacticos.
They had just augmented their strike force by signing French midfield star Zinedine Zidane for a then record $90 million four-year contract from Juventus on instalments. Zidane had just signed for Real, making his appearance in Cairo a pleasant surprise.
A flag-waving crowd of nearly 70,000 in Cairo Stadium saw Ahly weather an early storm as Claude Makelele went close for Real at the start of the match. Roberto Carlos let fly with one of his trademark cannon shots which goalkeeper Essam Al-Hadari did well to even see it.
Zidane whiffed at a clear opportunity in front of the goal.
Ahly came out for the second half determined to push back Real. They created several chances with Alaa Ibrahim and Khaled Bebo hitting the bar.
The goal came 10 minutes after the break after Bebo launched a counter attacking solo run before passing to Hossam Ghali who rounded Real goalkeeper Cesar before slipping the ball to newly signed Nigerian import Ibrahim Sunday who slotted into an empty net.
Real’s two superstars Zidane and Luis Figo failed to make an impression and were both substituted in the second half.
Zidane, Figo, Carlos, Raul, Makelele, Salgado, captain Fernando Hierro and all the other dream team members went down 1-0.
Manuel Jose of Portugal, who would go on to become Ahly’s winningest coach ever, marked his first victory with Ahly.