LONDON: Christian Gross hopes that Zamalek’s 2-1 victory over Al-Hilal in Riyadh in the first Saudi-Egyptian Cup final since 2003 can spur the team on to recapture the Egyptian league title for the first time since 2015.
?The former Tottenham Hotspur boss left Jeddah giant Al-Ahli in 2017 and moved to Cairo to take over the 12-time Egyptian champions in August.
Al-Hilal had plenty of chances win the match in front of their own fans on Friday but could not make their dominance count when it mattered.
“I never expected to be winning a trophy so soon after coming to ?Zamalek,” Gross said.
Hamdi Nagguez opened the scoring with a header. The Tunisian full-back then provided the cross for Kabongo Kasongo from Congo to score from close range as the visitors rode out the early storm to take a commanding half-time lead.
Syrian striker Omar Khribin pulled one back soon after the break but Zamalek held on, though it was touch and go in the final moments when Al-Hilal had a goal disallowed for offside after the referee consulted VAR.
The star of the show was Zamalek goalkeeper Mahmoud Abdel Rahim, who made a number of fine saves to keep out Al-Hilal.
“It was a fine goalkeeping performance but that is the kind of goalkeeper he is, and he proves that every week. He and Nagguez played really well and stood out in what was a strong team performance all round.”
Gross has led Zamalek to first place in the Egyptian Premier League after eight games this season. He acknowledged that there is still a long way to go but is happy with the confidence-boosting win.
“I hope now that we can use this success and build on this to have a good season at home,” Gross said.
“Al-Hilal is a strong team and it is very difficult to come to Riyadh and win.”
Defender Mahmoud Alaa expects the win will give Zamalek energy and belief going forward.
“This was a big game for us and we showed our determination to win. We came under serious pressure but we kept fighting to the end and it will drive us on to further success.”
There was some worrying news for Al-Hilal ahead of kick-off as star striker Bafetimbi Gomis picked up a muscle injury in the pre-match warm-up build-up with tests to determine how serious the knock is. There was still plenty of firepower in the team, however, and Carlos Eduardo and Salem Al-Dawsari were also guilty of missing chances.
The result was even more impressive as it was the first time this season that Al-Hilal failed to win. Under new coach Jorge Jesus, the Riyadh giants have been on a winning streak and the Portuguese boss was named manager of the month in September. The defending champions have won all four games in the Saudi Pro League so far, defeated Al-Ittihad in the Saudi Super Cup final in London and also beat Oman’s Al-Shabab in the Arab Club Championship.
Perhaps because of that success, new Al-Hilal president Prince Mohammed bin Faisal, who took the position in September, was philosophical about the defeat.
“We enjoyed the excitement and organization in this event and the strong match between the two teams,” he said. “We faced a great competitor, the Zamalek club, which was an excellent experience for us.”
The boss added that the injury to Gomis was a major factor in the defeat given the chances that were missed.
“We faced some adverse conditions like Gomez’s injury. Our fans understand that we played well and we created many opportunities. We were missing our main striker and we dominated against a good team.”
Coach Jesus has given the players three days off before training resumes on Wednesday with a number of players away on international duty.