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Al Ahly: How They Became Africa’s Most Successful Club

Founded in 1907 in Egypt, Al Ahly Football Club has entrenched itself as the most successful football club in African and Egyptian Football history, but this success took a lot of time to materialize and did not come without controversy between Africa’s most successful club and its federation: CAF.

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A History Filled With Trophies

Al Ahly has long been deemed as Egypt’s most successful football club with 43 Egyptian league titles, 38 Egyptian Cups and periods of historical dominance barely matched in football history.

The club has won the Egyptian Football League 7 times, with four of those being in a row. They also had an invincible season in 2004-2005 winning 5 trophies in the process: the Egyptian Football League, the Egyptian Cup, the Egyptian Super Cup, the African Champions League and the African Super Cup.

It would be strange to know that a club with 11 African Champions League trophies, let alone African Super Cups and African Winners’ Cups have waited 75 years to taste its first success in African Football.

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Al Ahly, The First African Champions League: 1982

Al Ahly historically has been the most dominant team in Egyptian football but success in Africa was elusive. In 1982, Al Ahly reached the final of the African Champions League and was playing against Africa’s most dominant club at the time: Asante Kotoko.

They managed to win the first game 3-0 in Egypt, but going to Komasi in Ghana and playing the best African football club was a tall task. A lot of Al Ahly fans at the time believed Kotoko had a magician with their club who performed spells for the Ghanaian club to win games and to stop the ball from going into their net.

The Egyptian sides players could not sleep the night of the game from the noise surrounding their hotel but they managed to do the almost impossible at the time: get back from Komasi with the trophy as they managed to draw 1-1 in the return game.

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The game was not broadcast in Egypt at the time due to the interruption of communications between the Ghanaian capital Accra and Kumasi where the game was played. Fans of the club had to wait for hours to know whether their team had managed to win the trophy.

The floodgates opened after winning the 1st African trophy as they managed to win the African Winners’ Cup in 1984, 1985 and 1986 and won their second African Champions League in 1987 before winning another African Winners’ Cup in 1993. Then came the controversy in Johannesburg.

A controversy in Johannesburg

The African Super Cup in 1994 was a meeting between the 2 giants of Egyptian Football: Al Ahly and Al Zamalek meeting for the first time for an African trophy. Adding to the storyline, Zamalek’s manager at the time was Mahmoud El Gohary, an Al Ahly legend as a player and manager and a close friend of the club’s president at the time Saleh Selim.

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A loss against Zamalek in this game was pretty much unfathomable for The Red Devils and their fans; they could lose all of their games but never watch their closest rival celebrate an African trophy, let alone over them.

Yet, a loss is what happened as they lost to an 86-minute goal from Ayman Mansour. Tempers flared after the game resulting in a fight between the club’s players and the CAF game observer.

CAF has decided to suspend right back Ibrahim Hassan for a year and issued a final warning for President Salah Selim and their English manager at the time, Allan Harris.

They did not like CAF’s decisions towards the club and decided to retaliate by withdrawing from the African Football Championships. CAF did not like the withdrawal and hence decided to suspend them from participating in all African Championships from 1995 to 1998.

A cat-and-mouse game ensued between the two parties and relationships did not calm down between them except after Al Ahly was awarded Africa Club of the Century, an award that is causing a controversy to this date, and Egypt’s biggest club with its biggest fanbase has decided to return to African football participation.

A Return, And The Most Dominant Of Periods:

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After Al Ahly returned to African football, a period of historic dominance barely matched in Club football followed. Since 2001, they has won 9 African Champions League titles, reaching the final 13 times in 21 years.

Adding to that, the Egyptian club has won the African Super Cup 8 times in that period while finishing runners up 3 times while also adding an African Confederation Cup becoming the first Egyptian team to win the trophy that eluded Egyptian teams since its creation.

The Red Devils also played in the Club World Cup 8 times, winning the bronze medal 4 times in 2006, 2020, 2021 and 2023 and already booked their ticket to the expanded Club World Cup in 2025.

While every African Trophy they won during this period would have its own story, none would be bigger than the 2020 African Champions League. It was the Cairo derby – Al Ahly vs Al Zamalek- on Africa’s biggest stage, not just for Africa’s Biggest trophy but for the Cairo derby bragging rights and for Zamalek to win back the African Champions League for the first time in 18 years and for the Ahly to win it back after 7 years.

The match was tied 1-1 till the 85th minute when a clearance on the edge of the box fell to Mohamed Magdi Afsha who got the ball on his chest and fired a volley in the top of the net. The exact second the ball hit the net has been entrenched in Al Ahly fan’s memories: 85:46.

Tshirts, and cups showing the exact moment and printed on the below photo or “القاضية ممكن” which translates in English to ” the knockout possible” as announced by BeiN commentator the moment the ball left Mohamed Magdi Afsha’s feet.

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Not only had Al Ahly won the game and Africa’s biggest honour, but their fans own Cairo Derby bragging rights forever thanks to this moment.

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