Egyptian Premier League marks return, hoping this season will last

After the last two campaigns have been cut short amid domestic unrest, the league will begin play for the 2013/14 season on Tuesday with the hope that this season will be seen all the way through.

Mohamed Aboutrika and Al Ahly won the 2010/11 Egyptian Premier League title, the competition's last completed season. Toru Yamanaka / AFP
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Egyptian clubs will make a belated start to their domestic soccer season on Tuesday, hopeful of completing it after security issues cut short the last two campaigns.

The 2013/14 season marks the return of Al Masry for the first time since the Port Said stadium riot in February last year when 74 people, mostly fans of opponents Al Ahly, were killed.

Spectators were crushed when panicked crowds tried to escape from the stadium after a pitch invasion by supporters of Al Masry. Others fell or were thrown from terraces.

The violent clashes shocked Egypt and resulted in the 2011/12 season being immediately halted and a host of sanctions for the Port Said club.

Club football then suffered a near year-long standstill before a new season belatedly got underway, only for it to be halted in July after the army ousted the country’s president Mohammed Morsi with one round of the 2012/13 regular season left.

The 22 clubs in the top flight will be divided into two groups with play-offs at the end of the season to determine the champions. All games will be played behind closed doors, the Egyptian Football Association announced.

Al Masry have been ordered to play their matches at Suez, while military stadiums in Cairo will host the games of African champions Al Ahly and their arch rivals Zamalek, both of whom command passionate followings. The pair have been placed in separate groups.

The opening fixture on Tuesday pits Petrojet against Tala’e El Gaish, with five matches scheduled for December 25 and four more on December 26 in the first round of action.

Thursday’s kick off comes after a series of start dates for the new season had been put back.

“It has been incredibly difficult to prepare,” said El Gouna’s German coach Rainer Zobel in an interview with the Kicker soccer magazine.

“We’ve had several false starts to the season in August, then September and lastly December 6. It has been a long, long wait.”