It’s anybody’s group

Alaa Abdel-Ghani , Tuesday 20 Feb 2024

Following an almost two-month hiatus, the African Champions League returned over the weekend as two Egyptian clubs find themselves in a battle royal for the first two spots in their respective groups, reports Alaa Abdel-Ghani

Ahly

 

Egyptian clubs Ahly and Pyramids must try to get the wheels turning again as the African Champions League hurtles towards a crucial two-game finale.

With no Champions League or domestic league games played during the recently-concluded Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), the two teams need to get up to speed quickly should they want to reach their objective, the knockout stage.

Group D remains wide open with four games played and two to go. Ahly, the defending champions, maintain their top spot with six points, followed by CR Belouizdad of Algeria and Young Africans of Tanzania who are tied on five points each. Bottom of the group are Ghana’s Medeama who are just two points away from the leaders with four points. The top two finishers go to the knockout stage of the continent’s most prestigious club football tournament.

Ahly face Medeama in Ghana on Friday 23 February. The group is so tight that even though Medeama are bottom of the group they could go to the top of the group should they overcome the reigning champions at home.

The day after, the Algerians will be away to Young Africans.

In the first leg Ahly beat Medeama handily 3-0. Also in the first leg, Belouizdad blanked Young Africans by the same score.

Ahly’s performance thus far has not been commensurate with a club that has won the championship a record-extending 11 times. For the first time since the 2012-2013 season when they drew in four consecutive matches, Ahly have drawn three straight in this current campaign.

And for the third consecutive season, Ahly have settled for just one win in the first three rounds of the group stage of the tournament.

Ahly, who have a record 11 titles, played to a goalless stalemate at the 5 July 1962 Stadium in Algiers on Friday 16 February against CR Belouizdad.

Despite creating a number of chances, especially in the second half, Belouizdad were unable to find the back of the net. Houcine Benayada hit the woodwork from a free-kick during that period of several Belouizdad attacks on goal.

Ahly substitute goalkeeper Mustafa Shobier, in for Mohamed Al-Shinnawi who suffered a shoulder separation in the AFCON, made several key saves, especially near the end.

Ahly’s Swiss coach Marcel Koller, in his second season with the squad, attributed the draw and his team’s less than expected showing to the lack of playing time following not just AFCON but before that, the Club World Cup in which Ahly finished third.

“We are not in our best shape yet as we did not play a single game during the last six weeks and also the international players joined the team late after finishing their international duty,” Koller said in a press conference after the match.

“On the contrary, Belouizdad play regularly in the Algerian league and they are ready. What appeared today is that they were the better side,” he added.

CR Belouizdad head coach Marcos Paquetá did not disagree, but said the rain was a problem.

“The rainfall affected us, which posed a challenge for the players, but during that time, we created many opportunities that we didn’t capitalise on.”

Ahly’s final group game will be against Young Africans in Cairo on Friday 1 March.

On Saturday 24 February, Pyramids, also of Egypt, have an uphill task of getting a result in Lubumbashi as they face TP Mazembe in what will be a tightly contested affair in the same tournament. Pyramids edged Mazembe 1-0 in the first leg.

In Group A, Pyramids are last in the group after four games, tied with Nouadhibou of Mauritania on four points. TB Mazembe of DR Congo and South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns are one-two in the group with seven points each.

 


* A version of this article appears in print in the 22 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

 

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