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Sunday, 25 July 2021

Preview: Egypt's Ahly dreaming big on sixth Club World Cup appearance

Record nine-time African champions Ahly face Qatar's Al Duhail in their opening Club World Cup game on Thursday

Hatem Maher , Wednesday 3 Feb 2021
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Ahly players during a training session ahead of their Club World Cup opener against Al Duhail (Photo: the club's official Facebook page)
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Most of Ahly's previous Club World Cup appearances were disappointing for a club of their pedigree but they look determined to go the extra mile as they open their new campaign against Qatar's Al Duhail on Thursday.

The Red Devils will make a sixth appearance in the annual tournament, extending their African record, but the fact that their third-place finish in 2006 -- their best outcome so far -- was later bettered by two other teams in the continent is leaving them green with envy.

Ahly are Africa's undisputed number one club, winning a record nine Champions League titles, four clear of nearest challengers TP Mazembe and Cairo rivals Zamalek.

However, when it comes to the Club World Cup, DR Congo's Mazembe and Morocco's Raja went farther by reaching the final in 2010 and 2013, losing to Inter Milan and Bayern Munich respectively.

Ahly's last participation in 2013 ended in embarrassing fashion as they lost 2-0 to China's Guangzhou Evergrande in the quarters before suffering a stunning 5-1 defeat by Mexico's Monterrey

Only one player in the current Ahly crop might have the Club World Cup know-how.

Winger Hussein El-Shahat played an instrumental role in helping Al-Ain reach the final in 2018 and was unlucky not to score against Spanish giants Real Madrid, who won the title by crushing the UAE club 4-1.

"I played in the final with Al Ain and it was an experience that I can't really put into words," El-Shahat told FIFA.com.

"I'll never forget that game against Real Madrid and I hope I can do the same with Al Ahly this year and go on to win the title."

Other players who have Club World Cup experience were kept at home. Veteran winger Walid Soliman is nursing an injury while injury-prone defender Rami Rabia fell out of favour with South African coach Pitso Mosimane.

'Anything is possible'

Ahly's supporters fancy a possible semi-final clash against Bayern Munich, but the team will have to negotiate a tricky tie against hosts Al Duhail before thinking about the European champions.

"We respect Al Duhail a lot, as they have many good players and they managed to win QNB Stars League. Also, they will play at their homeland and among their fans, besides that, they have many good foreign players," Mosimane said.

But the 56-year-old is dreaming big, just like his players.

"Any coach that goes to any tournament believes that he can win it, but the reality is how do you beat Bayern Munich - who have just defeated the mighty Barcelona 8-2 on aggregate with Lionel Messi on the pitch?" he told the BBC.

"But anything is possible - Leicester City has showed you that anything is possible," he added, referring to Leicester's dream Premier League title following a fairytale run in 2016.

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

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