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Preview: Beset by hardship, grieving Zamalek back in African action

Hatem Maher , Saturday 14 Mar 2015
Zamalek players in a training session ahead of the CAF Confederation Cup opener at home to Rwanda's Rayon Sports on Sunday (Photo: the club's official website)
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Egypt's Zamalek are still in grief following the death of 20 fans last month but they will have to pick themselves up as they take part in the African Confederation Cup for the first time since 1999.

The February football disaster in Cairo saw their supporters die of stampede after they were tear-gassed by security forces, who sought to prevent them from attending an Egyptian Premier League game at the army-owned Air Defence Stadium.

The incident once again revived a long-running debate about security measures in Egyptian football and forced a suspension of domestic competitions for an indefinite period amid doubts over whether the league will be completed this season.

Zamalek's hardcore fan group (Ultras White Knights) pointed the finger at the club's outspoken chairman Mortada Mansour and the interior ministry, accusing them of complicity in the disaster, which occurred three years after more than 70 Ahly fans were killed in coastal city Port Said in Egypt's worst-ever football tragedy.

Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi vowed to punish the culprits although no one has been officially charged over the Cairo disaster while the Ultras White Knights have remained largely silent despite making explicit threats to retaliate.

To avoid possible ramifications, the Egyptian authorities decided to hold Zamalek's game at home to Rwanda's Rayon Sports in the first leg of the Confederation Cup round of 32 in the Red Sea resort of El-Gouna on Sunday.

The game will mark the debut of former Porto coach Jesualdo Ferreira, who succeeds fellow countryman Jaime Pacheco after the latter left the club in an acrimonious manner after falling out with Mansour.

Zamalek, five-time winners of the elite Champions League, have not played in the new version of Africa's secondary club competition since it was created more than 10 years ago.

Their last participation in the old CAF Cup was in 1999 when they were eliminated in the semi final. Ahly, Zamalek's arch rivals, became the first Egyptian side to win the Confederation Cup when they beat Ivory Coast's Sewe Sport in a two-legged final last year.

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