Success-starved Zamalek are still clinging to the faint hope of winning the Egyptian Premier League as they face struggling side Ittihad of Alexandria away from home on Sunday.
The White Knights failed to narrow a five-point gap with leaders Ahly after surrendering their lead twice to draw 2-2 with their arch rivals in a bad-tempered Cairo derby last Wednesday.
With three matches remaining, Ahly seem overwhelming favourites to secure a seventh consecutive league title but Zamalek, who last won the competition in 2004, are not ready to throw in the towel.
“There is nothing impossible in football,” Zamalek assistant coach Tarek Soliman said on the club’s official website.
“We asked the players to do their best to win the three remaining matches in the league. We don’t want to be overly concerned with Ahly’s results; we need to do our job first.”
On paper, Zamalek should not find it difficult to overcome an Ittihad side, who are languishing at the bottom of the 16-team table on 23 points, six adrift of the safety zone.
But Ittihad’s enthusiastic supporters, some of whom invaded the pitch after the team slumped to a 2-1 loss to Wadi Degla last month, are expected to give Zamalek a hard time in the Alexandria Stadium.
“This will be one of our difficult matches. Our opponents will be desperate to win to keep their hopes alive of not being relegated, but I’m confident Zamalek players can overcome that test,” Soliman added.
Zamalek midfielder Hassan Mostafa will miss the rest of the season after dislocating his finger, while Qatari winger Hussein Yasser, who scored the second goal in the 2-2 derby draw, is doubtful for the game due to a back complaint.
Youngster Mohamed Ibrahim is also out after being hit with a four-match suspension for flipping the Masry’s fans the finger during a league game last month, while injury-prone striker Amr Zaki is facing a race against time to get fit for the match.
Ahly face Smouha, who are also facing an uphill climb to retain their top-flight status, as they lie third from bottom in the table, in a buoyant mood after edging closer to their sixth league triumph under Portuguese coach Manuel Jose.
“With three matches remaining, I think the matter is settled now. It is very difficult for Ahly to lose the title now,” assistant coach Pedro, who speaks to media on behalf of Jose, said after the derby.
The Red Devils will miss tireless defensive midfielder Hossam Ashour, who was banned for three matches after elbowing Zamalek’s Hani Said.
Long-term absentees Mohamed Abou-Treika and Mohamed Shawky are still nursing their respective injuries.