Defending champions Ahly hardly thought they would be in a position to seriously challenge Zamalek for the Egyptian Premier League title but their bitter foes have dropped seven points in their last three matches, throwing the race wide open.
After Ahly struggled for consistency in the first half of the season, Zamalek looked favourites to end a league drought stretching back to 2004 after a fine run of results gave them a six-point lead over the Red Devils at the halfway stage of the season.
But a lengthy break due to the Egyptian Revolution has seemingly taken its toll on the White Knights who have faltered, managing only goalless draws with ENPPI and Ismaily before suffering a stunning 2-1 defeat at lowly Gouna on Tuesday.
Ahly, who improvement has coincided with the return of Portuguese coach Manuel Jose in January, will now have the chance to close to within one point of Zamalek if they defeat struggling Ittihad of Alexandria in Cairo on Thursday.
Ittihad, who lie at the bottom of the 16-league table with 15 points, four adrift of safety, revived their hopes of staying in the top-flight with a precious and somewhat surprise 3-1 victory over Masry last week.
“The players’ morale is high and they are determined to secure a positive result against Ahly,” Ittihad coach Mohamed Amer told reporters ahead of the game.
“The victory over Masry boosted our confidence and new chairman Effat El-Sadat also promised the players they would get their late salaries as soon as possible,” he added, referring to the financial plight of Alexandria’s most popular club.
Eyes on Sayoud
All eyes will be on promising Algerian playmaker Amir Sayoud, who stole the show with a series of dazzling tricks during Ahly’s 1-0 home win over Gouna in their previous league game.
He is likely to cement his place in the starting line-up, given the absence of veteran playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika who is nursing an injury.
Abou-Treika, a cult figure among Ahly’s faithful, looks way past his prime amid widespread calls for him to hang up his boots.
“It is not fair to tell him to retire,” Jose said of the 32-year-old, whom he brought to Ahly in January 2004 from Tersana.
“Abou-Treika achieved a lot with Ahly during the past years and we still need him in the team. We can still make the most of his capabilities.”
Apart from Abou-Treika, Ahly have no major injury worries while Ittihad are keeping their fingers crossed that Cameroonian duo Edet Otobong and Marc Mboua will recover from injuries in time to feature in the game.