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Thursday, 20 February 2020

Preview: Lacklustre Ahly aim to revive hopes against group favourites Wydad

Ahly will be looking to give their fans something to cheer about in the Champions League when they host Morocco's Wydad Casablanca at Alexandria's Borg El-Arab Stadium on Saturday

Omar Zaazou , Friday 15 Jul 2016
Egypt's Ahly player John Antwi (R) vies with Ivory Coast's Asec Mimosas goalkeeper Yao Kouassi (L) during their CAF Champions League group B stage football match at the Borg el-Arab Stadium in Alexandria on June 28, 2016. (AFP)
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An out-of-sorts Ahly will be determined to get back on track when they host Group A leaders Wydad Casablanca in the Champions League at Alexandria's Borg El-Arab Stadium on Saturday.

Having conceded two consecutive defeats -- at the hands of Zambia's ZESCO United and Ivorian side ASEC Mimosas -- in their opening two group-stage fixtures, Martin Jol's men will be keen to resurrect their semi-final qualification hopes against group favorites Wydad.

The Egyptian league winners will again welcome their own fans against Wydad, but this time they will be hoping to please the 10,000 supporters allowed to cheer them on, unlike during the ASEC defeat.

But the Cairo giants' mission won't be easy. They will be meeting a side who have opened their last-eight campaign with two victories, both coming against the very teams Ahly lost to.

Unlike Ahly, who failed to overcome ZESCO away from home and eventually lost 3-2 after initially going to two goals behind in their first group game, Wydad bagged a crucial 1-0 win away at ASEC Mimosas, before going on to beat the Zambian outsiders 2-0 in Morocco.

What's more, Ahly's recent displays have not encouraged their fans, who only a few weeks ago were celebrating their side's 38th Egyptian league title.

The defeat at ZESCO was followed by another embarrassing 2-1 home loss to Ivory Coast's ASEC, who could not have come up winners if not for a second-half howler from keeper Sherif Ekramy.

But it isn't only the goalkeeping department where Ahly seem to be struggling; playymaker Abdallah El-Said's injury and skipper Hossam Ghaly's dip in form are also taking a severe toll.

Ahly's midfield problems were on display in their last-day derby league clash with arch-rivals Zamalek, who dictated play for most of the 90 minutes.

During the match, Ahly looked to be missing the cutting edge of Gabonese striker Malick Evouna, who departed for China's Tianjin Teda just a few days beforehand, with centre-forward Amr Gamal lacking the former's physical presence and pace.

But even more crucial is the absence of growing star Ramadan Sobhi, who is now on the verge of completing a summer switch to English Premier League side Stoke City, depriving Ahly of their most dangerous card down the flank.

Wydad however boast a talented winger in Reda Hajhouj, who netted six goals and dished out another three among the Moroccans' 15 Champions League goals so far this season.

With Ahly particularly struggling defensively down the flanks, with right-back Ahmed Fathi a shadow of his old self and left-back Sabri Rahil unable to convince, ex-Tottenham manager Jol will be working on finding a way to contain Hajhouj's threat.

Despite brushing aside a below-par Haras El-Hodoud side, who have already been relegated to the second division, 2-0 in the Egypt Cup last-16, the Ahly management know well they did not face a test against the Alexandrians.  

And they will now be determined to find a way to overcome their injury and technical problems in pursuit of their ninth Champions League trophy.

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