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Sunday, 22 October 2017

Preview: Egypt's Ahly face familiar Tunisian challenge in CL semis

Hatem Maher , Saturday 30 Sep 2017
Ahly
Egypt's Al Ahly players celebrate after scoring against Esperance Sportive de Tunis (Reuters)
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Egypt's Ahly are brimming with confidence and enjoying a psychological edge over African Champions League semi-final opponents Etoile du Sahel as they continue their quest for a record-extending ninth trophy in Sousse on Sunday.

Ahly play Etoile away from home in the first leg of the semi-final clash almost a week after they came from a goal down to earn a famous 2-1 victory over another Tunisian side, Esperance, in Rades.

The precious comeback win, thanks to goals from Tunisian left-back Ali Maaloul and Nigerian forward Junior Ajayi, lifted Ahly to the last four with a 4-3 aggregate win after a 2-2 first-leg draw in Alexandria had made their task difficult.

The Red Devils are in a buoyant mood going into the anticipated clash in Sousse, with their fans speaking of a psychological edge over Tunisian opponents.

They fondly recall a memorable Champions League triumph in 2006 when a last-gasp volley from iconic playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika broke the hearts of Sfaxien and gave Ahly the coveted trophy in dramatic fashion.

However, the Red Devils are not as prolific as they used to be back then.

Their defence and goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy have not been convincing lately and their forwards are not firing on all cylinders.

Etoile qualified for the semifinal with a comfortable 2-0 home win over Libya's Ahli Tripoli following a 0-0 first-leg draw, with Egyptian striker Amr Marei notching a brace after a rare start. The summer recruit from Egypt's Enppi is expected to start against Ahly.

"The match against Etoile will be even stronger than our match against Esperance because of the morale boost our opponents got from their win over Ahli Tripoli," Ahly's chairman Mahmoud Taher, who is likely to seek re-election against the team's footballing great Mahmoud El-Khatib in November, said on the club's official website.

"The atmosphere will also be more exciting because of Etoile's huge popularity in Sousse.

"But Ahly's players and technical staff members are all focused on overcoming Etoile and winning the trophy to take part in the Club World Cup."

Ahly and Etoile met in the Champions League final in 2005 and 2007. The Cairo giants prevailed with comprehensive 3-0 aggregate win in 2005 but Etoile had the upper hand two years later, securing a 3-1 victory in Cairo after the first leg ended goalless.

Ahly may miss influential defensive midfielder Hossam Ashour after he hurt his knee in a training session before the match. Playmaker Ahmed El-Sheikh, back from a loan spell with Maqassa, is also a major doubt because of a back complaint.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

 
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