Ahly’s star-studded squad lost some of its key players in January as the team suffered from rare financial difficulties, giving modest opponents hope that they can upstage the illustrious Cairo club.
Alexandria-based club Smouha, who made a disappointing start to their Egyptian Premier League after collecting a solitary point from two games, stunned with Ahly with a 1-0 victory over Thursday, thanks to a thunderbolt from Ghanaian striker Ernest Papa Arko.
A toothless Ahly side lacked spark and creativity, only creating two goal-scoring opportunities after putting in a disappointing display that resembled their unconvincing 1-0 wins over Ghazl El-Mahalla and Wadi Degla in their opening Premier League games.
Packed with stars, Ahly managed to overcome the adverse effects of a lengthy football stoppage in Egypt to win a record-extending seventh African Champions League title last year but they had to dispense with some of their stars to allay financial worries.
Classy playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika, a club icon, joined Emirati club Bani Yas on loan until the end of the season, depriving Ahly of his trademark defence-splitting passes which were nowhere to be seen against Smouha.
Forward Gedo, one of their best performers in their triumphant Champions League campaign, joined English second-division side Hull City on loan, so did indispensible right-back Ahmed Fathi, leaving coach Hossam El-Badry perplexed as to how he can make up for the losses.
To make matters worse, key central midfielder Hossam Ghaly and playmaker Walid Soliman suffered serious knee injuries.
“We have to wait until the return of some players. We have to wait until the next transfer window to add new players in order to regain our balance,” El-Badry told reporters following the defeat by Smouha.
“We should stand by the current crop of players, however, in the coming difficult period,” he added.
Ahly are still favourites to win the league title for the eighth consecutive year but they may face a stiff competition from traditional Cairo rivals Zamalek, who collected maximum nine points from their first three games, albeit in another group.
In a new two-group league format, the winners of the two groups will advance to play a mini-league with only home fixtures to determine the champion. The competition is being played behind closed doors at military-owned stadiums due to security concerns.
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