Buoyed by their new signings but worried over their wretched luck with injuries, Egypt's Ahly kick off their African Champions League group stage at home to DR Congo's Vita Club on Saturday with mixed feelings.
Ahly suffered the heartbreak of two successive final defeats in the previous two editions, with their fans often pointing to a lack of depth in their squad which specifically cost them dear in a painful 3-0 second-leg loss to Tunisia's Esperance to miss out on last season's title in November.
This time around they have made some high-profile signings to plug the cracks in their underachieving roster, bringing in five players including their former winger Ramadan Sobhi, who arrived on loan from Huddersfield Town, and in-form attacking midfielder Hussein El-Shahat who joined from Emirati club Al Ain.
Having spent hundreds of millions of pounds to strengthen their squad, Ahly cannot afford to suffer further injuries similar to the one which struck new recruit Mohamed Mahmoud, a promising central midfielder who ruptured a cruciate knee ligament in a recent Egyptian Premier League game.
Mahmoud could now miss the rest of the season, with another key player in Moroccan striker Walid Azaro also nursing a serious injury.
Others who have just recovered from long-term injuries include Nigerian winger Junior Ajayi, with many fans wondering whether the team doctors were doing their job.
Some voices humorously cited supernatural powers for the raft of injuries which hit Ahly in recent months but football will definitely do all the talking when the Red Devils face Vita Club at Alexandria's Borg El-Arab Stadium.
On paper, Ahly are favorites to bag all three points in their opening Group D encounter but Vita Club are a force to be reckoned with, having reached last year's Confederation Cup final before losing to Morocco's Raja Athletic.
They also outplayed fellow Egyptian side Masry in a two-legged semi-final to set up a meeting with Raja.
Ahly marked the debut of Uruguayan coach Martin Lasarte with a disappointing 2-1 defeat by Pyramids FC in the domestic league but recovered quickly with a 1-0 victory over Smouha to return to winning ways.
"The win over Smouha made us more confident. It's annoying to deal with such a number of injuries but we are fully ready for the match," Lasarte told a news conference before the Vita Club match.
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