Ahly and Zamalek’s competition for African dominance took a new turn when the latter ignited an old controversy over CAF’s decision to name the Red Devils as the continent’s most successful club in the 20th
Zamalek host Angola’s Kabuscorp and title holders Ahly take on Young Africans in Tanzania in the first leg of the Champions League round of 32 on Saturday but the matches were overshadowed by talks over a 14-year-old debate
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) infuriated Zamalek after announcing that bitter rivals Ahly had overtaken AC Milan as the club with the most internationally recognized titles following their Super Cup triumph at the expense of Tunisia’s Sfaxien earlier this month.
CAF published a breakdown of Ahly’s titles on their website which included the Afro-Asian Cup, the same competition which the African governing body did not count when it chose the Club of the Century.
“Congratulations to Ahly on this historic achievement. CAF is proud of this record that puts Africa on the world map yet again,” CAF President Issa Hayatou said.
“This is positive sign that African football has come of age and it will encourage other clubs to do more.”
Zamalek, who came second in the “century list”, argued that they would have pipped Ahly to the prestigious award had the Afro-Asian Cup been included in the recognized titles.
“We were the club with most African titles in the 20th century. I believe the criteria CAF used should have been that fact rather than the points system,” Zamalek’s rookie coach Mido said in a news conference after penning a two-and-a-half year deal with the club, having worked for a month without a contract.
“The board of directors informed me that they would look into that problem and ask CAF to modify the system which they used. I believe we will eventually get what we deserve because we are the real club of the century.”
Ahly are the record winners of the elite Champions League with eight titles, three ahead of Zamalek who had the lion’s share of the trophy at the turn of the 21st century.
Ahly, who were given a bye into the last 32, are buoyed by their thrilling 3-2 win over Sfaxien which ended a poor run that prompted speculation over the future of coach Mohamed Youssef.
They will be looking to avoid defeat in Tanzania to make their task easy in Cairo, where they are expected to play behind closed doors after their victory over Sfaxien was followed by clashes between their hardcore supporters and security forces.
“We have to be cautious. Young Africans are a fresh team with some good youngsters. They will also be helped by their large fan base,” Youssef was quoted as saying by Egyptian media.
Ahly, who have been struggling for creativity since talismanic playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika retired following December’s Club World Cup, will have to do without attacking midfielder Abdallah El-Said after he picked up a hamstring injury.
Long-term absentees Walid Soliman and Sherif Abdel-Fadil are also out as Youssef continues to deal with a raft of injuries.
Zamalek, who comfortably overcame Niger's Douanes with a 3-0 aggregate win in the preliminary round, will miss suspended midfielder Moemen Zakareya. Defender Hamada Tolba and versatile midfielder Eslam Awad were also left out of the squad for “technical reasons”.
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