Zamalek will face their sternest challenge under coach Hossam Hassan when they host Tunisian side Club Africain with the possibility of exiting the CAF Champions League from the preliminaries.
Egypt’s all-time leading scorer Hassan, who guided Zamalek to their last Champions League triumph when he was a prolific striker in 2002, has been hailed as the team’s rescuer since his appointment in late 2009.
He turned around the fortunes of the then struggling outfit and helped them finish second in the Egyptian Premier League in his first season in charge.
Zamalek are also on course to end their league drought as they top the table at the halfway stage this term but a Champions League exit would not go down well with their demanding supporters.
The Cairo giants committed numerous defensive blunders to slump to a 4-2 defeat at Africain in the first leg of the competition’s round of 16 in what media branded a ‘clash of revolutionaries’ following the popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
“I can’t blame my back line for the defeat but I blame myself,” Hassan, who also complained about refereeing in the game, said.
“But I believe that our mission to overturn the deficit is not that difficult, we have a good chance to qualify for the next round.”
Zamalek failed to get beyond the group stage the last time they participated in Africa’s premier club competition in 2008.
Zamalek right-back Ahmed Ghanem was singled out for criticism by the supporters, who deemed him responsible for defensive weaknesses which Africain exposed to claim a comfortable first-leg advantage.
He was outwitted by Africain’s robust striker Ezechiel Ndouaselto, who opened the scoring early in the game and caused Zamalek’s defence all sorts of problems during the game.
Ghanem was consequently left out of the White Knights’ squad for the game, with reports suggesting that newly-arrived defender Ahmed Samir would take his place.
But Hassan is facing an attacking crisis after strike duo Amr Zaki and Mohamed Aoudia were ruled out of the match. Zaki is still nursing a knee injury while Algerian Aoudia failed to arrive in Cairo in time after fulfilling international duty.
Africain, who have no injury concerns, are determined to capitalize on Zamalek’s expected attacking approach.
“Zamalek will naturally push forward to overturn the deficit and they will consequently leave gaps in the back, which we are looking to expose,” forward Youssef Mouihbi said.
“Our opponents are strong and boast many good players but Africain are enjoying a fine run of form. We are capable of snatching a goal; we will not be intimated by pressure from the home crowd.”