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Preview: Ailing Ahly aim to recover against Esperance in Champions League group stage opener

Ahram Online , Thursday 3 May 2018
Ahly
Ahmed Fathi (C-R) heads the ball during the CAF Champions League quarterfinal first-leg football match between Egypt's Al-Ahly and Esperance on September 16, 2017. (AFP)
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Ahly will launch their Champions League group stage campaign on Friday when they face Tunisian giants Esperance de Tunisia at Alexandria's Borg El-Arab Stadium.

Both sides were crowned champions in their domestic leagues, but Ahly will be looking to bounce back from their two consecutive defeats last week.

The Egyptian champions, who claimed their 40th league title this season, slumped to a 1-2 defeat to archrivals Zamalek on Thursday, conceding their first loss against the White Knights in the Egyptian League in 11 years.

Five days later, they lost to Assyouti 1-0 to exit the Egypt Cup in the quarter finals.

"We decided to forget about the Egypt Cup exit. Our full concentration will be on our campaign in the African Champions League," Ahly's coach Hossam El-Badry told the club's official website.

"The Champions League title is the dream of all of us and also the fans. Despite the current challenges, there is no way to let the African title go to another team,” El-Badry said.

On paper, Ahly's mission against Esperance will not be easy given their recent shaky performance.

The Cairo giants will hit the pitch on Friday without two injured key offensive players; Moroccan striker Walid Azaro and Nigerian winger Junior Ajayi.

With the recent departure of team playmaker Abdallah El-Saeed and the absence of Azaro and Ajayi, winger Walid Soliman is the only offensive key player at the disposal of coach El-Badri, who was forced to register South African winger Phakamani Mahlambi in the club's African list to resolve his attacking crisis.

The former Bidvest winger, who joined the Red Devils last summer, has not been El-Badri's first choice in starting line-ups for weeks, making only 13 appearances this season.

He had been dropped from the club's initial African squad, but El-Badry registered him on Tuesday.

However, El-Badry got a defensive boost with the recovery of trio Ahmed Fathi, Ali Maaloul and Saad Samir, who were declared fit for the Esperance clash.

The return of this trio could give the Ahly coach many defensive choices against an offensive Esperance side led by Tunisia's international striker Taha khenissi, who scored twice against Ahly in the last edition when Ahly and Esperance faced-off in the competition's quarter-finals.              

"Despite our two defeats against Zamalek and Assyouti, we produced a good performance during the two games. I know it is disappointing, but I have the experience to deal with the pressure and to overcome all difficulties," El-Badry told a news conference on Thursday.

"The game will be very tough, especially with our shortages. Esperance are a good team and they are a title contender, but we are ready to face them."

The eight-time African champions are looking for their first Champions
League title since 2013.

They came close to winning the title last term, but they lost to Moroccan side Wydad de Casablanca 2-1 on aggregate in the final.  

Esperance are a two-time winner of the Champions League.

Ahly were drawn in Group A with Esperance alongside Uganda's Kampala City and Botswana's Township Rollers.

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