Preview: Egypt’s Ahly to begin CAF Champions League title hunt with S. Sudan's Atlabara
Mahmoud Elassal, , Saturday 10 Aug 2019

Egyptian champions Ahly will kick off their African Champions League campaign at home on Sunday, the first day of the Eid Al-Adha holiday, hosting South Sudanese side Atlabara at Alexandria's Borg El-Arab Stadium.

Ahly, who are also eight-time African champions, are looking for their first title since 2013.

They came close to winning in recent years, reaching the final in 2017 and 2018.

In 2019 they crashed out in the round of 16 on a 5-1 aggregate defeat to the Mamelodi Sundowns.

This edition is the first to be held on an August-May calendar. The final has been reduced from two legs to only one game at a neutral venue.

There will also be a record 14 previous winners involved.

Ahly have made the prestigious title their top priority and have spent millions of dollars over the past months in hopes of securing it.

Coach Martin Lasarte has signed playmaker Mohamed "Afsha" Magdi, defender Mahmoud Metwalli and Malian midfielder Aliou Dieng. Flamboyant winger Ramadan Sobhi has signed a new one-year-loan deal from Huddersfield Town.

Atlabara, who are making only their third CAF Champions League appearance, shouldn’t pose a serious challenge to Ahly, but the Cairo giants will nevertheless need to keep their guard up.

"The match will be a difficult one as the opponent is a mysterious team for us, so we’ll work hard to study their weaknesses and strengths to get the best preparation," Ahly's assistant coach Mohamed Youssef was quoted as saying by Ahly's official website.

"Facing anonymous [teams] is always full of dangers. The technical staff plan the best preparations to avoid surprises. We respect all our opponents at both the domestic and the continental levels, and we enter all matches with full concentration,” he said.

"The first leg is very important for us. We want to win it and achieve a positive result ahead of the return match," he added.

The second-leg game will be played in Egypt on 24 August, after the South Sudanese side asked Ahly to host the game while their stadium is being renovated.

"Playing both matches in Egypt is a positive thing for us as we will avoid the fatigue of traveling to South Sudan. So we want to get the best use of that to ensure our place in the next round early," Youssef concluded.

Ten thousand supporters will be allowed to attend the first match.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at@AO_Sportsand on Facebook atAhramOnlineSports.)