Ashour: 100 continental games is a surprise

Ashour: 100 continental games is a surprise
19 March 2014 08:56

Holders Al-Ahly of Egypt play as visitors to Libya’s same name bearers, Ahly Benghazi on Friday, 21 March 2014 in Tunis as the 2014 Orange CAF Champions League enters its 1/8th round first leg matches. Ahly needed a penalty shootout against Tanzania’s Young Africans to reach this round and continue their title defence campaign; a match that marked a special day for deputy captain, Hossam Ashour.Born on 9 March 1986, Ashour turned 28 on the day of the second leg of the 1/16th round against Young Africans held in Alexandria. But that wasn’t the same reason for making that day a memorable one for the versatile midfielder. It turned out to be the centennial appearance (100th match) for Ashour in the continental club championship. The midfielder made his debut with the Cairo giants on 22 July 2005. It was a CAF Champions League group stage clash against South Africa’s Ajax Cape Town when the then 19-year old featured for the first time for the eventual champions. Ahly won 2-0 with Ahmed El Sayed and Emad Meteab as scorers in the game that marked the birth of continental club action for Ashour. Then Portuguese manager Manuel Jose relied on Ashour in the defensive midfield role, and he has continued to be pivotal thereafter. With this, Ashour becomes the fourth Ahly player to achieve this feat. He joins teammate and captain Wael Gomaa who has in his books 110 continental games, goalkeeper Essam El Hadary (106 games), now with Wadi Degla and retired defender Shady Mohamed (100 games).“It was a nice coincidence to reach my 100th game on my birthday, and as well having the captain’s armband as Gomaa was on the bench”, an elated Ashour told “Our goalkeeper [Sherif Ekramy] told me before the match that it’s my 100th continental game, and it was a surprise for me. Being only 28 makes it a challenge for me to break Gomaa’s 110-game record.”Ashour who has won 10 continental titles with Ahly in his 100 games (5 CAF Champions League and 5 CAF super Cup titles) has marked a couple of them as memorable.“The 2006 CAF Champions League final is definitely my favourite memorable game. After a 1-1 draw at home, we defeated Tunisia’s CS Sfaxien with a 93rd minute strike from Mohamed Aboutrika to lift the trophy in the most dramatic fashion. “The 2012 final was a similar feat. We had a 1-1 draw at home with another Tunisian team [Esperance], before winning 2-1 away to lift the trophy.”His regret however is “CAF Champions League final against another Tunisian club [Etoile du Sahel], when we lost at home to finish runners-up in 2007”.“The midfield rivet” as he’s known among his fans disputed talks that Ahly’s current team looks far off from the one that dominated the continent the past decade. “It’s normal that we’re undergoing a transitional period. I was honoured to play with ‘superstars’ like Gomaa, Aboutrika, Mohamed Barakat among others. The secret is not in names; it’s the club. “We won the CAF Champions League in the past two years though no one expected that, and we can do it again this year. We played behind closed-doors and with no domestic action, yet fought hard to win everything, and we are still capable of doing it again.”Ashour’s contract expires at the end of the current but has yet to put pen to the extension agreement offered by the Cairo giants. “I prefer to wait till the end of the season. Nobody knows what’s next; I may stay here or leave for another experience. In all cases, Ahly remains my home.”Though a pivotal and integral part of the Ahly team, Ashour has bagged a handful 12 caps with the Egyptian national team, and was overlooked by new coach Shawky Gharib for the international friendly with Bosnia & Hervegovina a fortnight ago in Austria. “I don’t consider myself underestimated on the international level. It’s the manager’s choice and I have to respect it. I believe I have to do my best to be a part of the Pharaohs team in their 2015 Orange Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign”.On this weekend’s match against Ahly Benghazi, Ashour reckoned a tough game against the team coached by fellow Egyptian Tarek El Ashry. “It’s definitely going to be a very tough encounter. The Libyan team is a very good side and their coach El Ashry knows everything about us [Ahly]. We have to be at our best to qualify to the group stage”, concluded Ashour.

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