Two out of two

Alaa Abdel-Ghani , Tuesday 14 Mar 2023

Egypt’s two biggest football clubs need to win their remaining two games each if they are to make it to the quarter-finals of the African Champions League, reports Alaa Abdel-Ghani

Ahly during training
Ahly during training


With their collective backs against the wall, powerhouse Egyptian teams Ahly and Zamalek need to do something unique if they are to avoid group stage elimination from the prestigious African Champions League: They must each win two games in a row, something they have not done in the campaign so far.
That Ahly, a record 10-time champion of this tournament, and Zamalek, tied for second at five titles, are in danger of missing out on the final eight is hard to fathom but that is the situation the pair have put themselves in.
After Ahly were mauled by Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa 5-2 over the weekend, their only hope is to win their last two games, against Coton Sport in Cameroon and Al-Hilal of Sudan at home if they are to enter the quarter-finals.
In the first legs, Ahly lost to Al-Hilal 1-0 in Sudan but blanked Coton in Cairo 3-0.
After four games played and two left, Sundowns head Group B with 10 points. Al-Hilal have nine and Ahly four points. At zero points, Coton are out of the running.
The win by Sundowns at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on Saturday afternoon ensured that they qualified for the knockout stages.
It also added to the recent successes Sundowns have had with Ahly. In last year’s Champions League in the group stage the South Africans won home and away. They also thumped Ahly 5-0 in 2019.
In Cairo in this tournament, the teams played to a 2-2 draw in the first leg.
Ahly will meet Coton Sport on Friday 17 March in their first of their do-or-die matches. The next day Al-Hilal will face off against Sundowns.
Not only must Ahly beat Cotton and Al-Hilal but they must also hope that Al Hilal does not defeat Sundowns if they want to make it through.
That match has the implication that Sundowns might not give their all on the assumption that they have already qualified.
As if on cue, Sundowns head coach Rulani Mokwena rushed to dispel any qualms Ahly might be harbouring, assuring his Ahly counterpart Marcel Koller that his side will play fairly against Al-Hilal.
On Saturday afternoon, Koller said he hoped that Sundowns play in their next two matches “with honour”. Mokwena dutifully responded, assuring Ahly and their fans that he will play fairly and will try to win in Sudan.
“We are honest, believe me, we are honest. We will do the best we can. We want to win football matches and it’s important that we continue to win football matches,” Mokwena said in the post-match press conference.
“And if my colleague thinks we will not, he can 100 per cent be guaranteed that we will give everything to win the next couple of matches. Every single match we try to win, we play to win, we work to win every single day.”
At the same time, Ahly’s crosstown rivals Zamalek defeated Tunisian side Esperance 3-1 in their first win in the Champions League group stage game at Alexandria’s Borg Al-Arab Stadium on Tuesday to keep their hopes alive in the continental competition.
But like Ahly, Zamalek’s hopes of qualifying are pinned on winning their final two games to clinch one of the two qualifying tickets in Group D.
As it stands, after four matches, Esperance still lead with nine points. Belouizdad of Algeria have six points, followed by Zamalek with four, tied with Al-Merrikh of Sudan.  
Zamalek will face the Algerian side away from home on Friday 17 March before hosting Al-Merrikh a week later in the final day of the group stage.
Al-Merrikh will meet Esperance also on 17 March.
In the four matches played so far in the group stage, Zamalek lost 1-0 to Belouizdad in Cairo, were held to a 0-0 draw against Al-Merrikh and lost 2-0 away to Esperance before beating the Tunisians in the reverse fixture.
Meanwhile, defending champions Wydad of Morocco inched closer to the quarter-finals of the tournament after beating Petro de Luanda 2-0 in Angola on Saturday.
In Group A with two games remaining, Wydad lead with nine points, two ahead of JS Kabylie of Algeria. Petro have four points and Vita Club of the DR Congo three.
Wydad, which will only need a point in their next match to affirm a place in the last eight, are being led by former Ahly manager Juan Carlos Garrido of Spain.
Wydad beat Ahly 2-0 in the final of the Champions League last year.
In the CAF Confederation Cup, akin to the Europa League, in Group C, again with two matches to go, Pyramids of Egypt are atop with eight points. FAR Rabat are second with seven points. Another Egyptian outfit, Future, have five points and ASKO Kara of Togo have one point.
In their most recent matches, Future beat FAR Rabat 2-0 while Pyramids trounced ASKO 4-1.
Future will meet ASKO on 19 March, the same day that Pyramids go up against FAR Rabat in what could be a defining day.
RS Berkane of Morocco are last year’s champions but failed to qualify for the group stage this year.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 March, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly


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