A reshuffled Zamalek side will be eyeing a place at the African Confederation Cup semis when they meet Congo’s Leopards with a depleted 16-man squad away from home on Sunday.
Having just dispensed with nine members of their league title-winning side, Zamalek found themselves flying to Dolisie with just 16 first-team players – a setback that was also exacerbated by further absences.
Keeper Ahmed El-Shennawi was kept in Cairo, with fear of the Congolese fans’ reactions following his collision with striker Rudi Ndey – who as a result sustained a career-threatening spinal injury during their meeting a fortnight ago – cited as a reason behind his omission.
Midfield wizard Ayman Hefni, anchorman Ibrahim Salah and Ahmed Tawfik were ruled out due to automatic suspension and center-half Islam Gamal due to injury.
Yet despite registering six new arrivals in their African roster, Zamalek still had to omit some summer signings from the Congo trip - with Basel loanee Ahmed Hamoudi and Egypt international Ahmed Hassan Mekki left out due to lack of fitness.
But the other four newly-recruited men could still be handed their Confederation Cup debut, as ex-Luzern forward Mahmoud ‘Kahraba’, summer-returnee Mohamed Ibrahim, striker Mohamed Salem and full-back Mohamed Adel Gomaa were all included.
Gomaa, in particular, has a good chance to fill the left-back slot against Leopards after Zamalek loaned out Ahmed Samir – who largely remained an understudy to converted right-footed center-half Hamada Tolba in the past season.
Mekki’s absence could well see Kahraba play on Sunday, with Zamalek’s lead marksman Bassem Morsi and new-signing Salem the only fit and recognized strikers following the release of center-forwards Khaled Kamar and Ahmed Ali.
Mohamed Ibrahim will also stake his claim for a starting berth, with the departure of Ahmed Eid and the absence of Hefni increasing the ex-Maritimo forward’s playing chances.
“We’ve been subjected to such conditions before,” Zamalek football director Ismail Youssef told the club’s official website.
“But we are well able to overcome the major absences in our side; after all, we got players who are up to the occasion.
“We are already accustomed to such circumstances in African competitions, such as poor pitch conditions, the heat, etc…but we are there for a positive result.
“We will play to win the game to book a place in the semi-finals.”
Mere league title never enough
Meanwhile, goalkeeping coach Ayman Taher confirmed that Mohamed Abo-Gabal is the one set to deputize for El-Shennawi between the posts against Leopards - with keeper Mahmoud Abdel-Reheem 'Gennesh' yet to reach full fitness.
“Abo-Gabal will most probably be given the nod against Leopards,” Taher said.
“Even if El-Shennawi is there, I would’ve still preferred to play Abo-Gabal instead of him.
“El-Shennawi cannot focus enough following the incident with Ndye, even if he travelled with us, Abo-Gabal would’ve started since he is the fit goalkeeper at our disposal.
"Gennesh hasn’t fully recovered yet from injury.”
As to the game, which Zamalek enter on top of Group B with a 100% record after making it three wins out of three, manager Jesualdo Ferreira insists that his side have yet to guarantee a semi-final spot.
“We are yet to qualify for the semis. Leopards are not going to be pushovers,” Ferreira, who is set for a renewed contract after ending Zamalek’s 11-year league drought, told Al-Hayat TV.
“Leopards will be fighting to win, should they manage to win their remaining games they would secure a semi-final berth after as they will have collected 10 points by then.
“It will be a difficult match, they will try to give it their all, capitalizing on their physicality and the poor pitch conditions.
“My players really have been totally consumed following a hectic season, they be resting now if it wasn’t for the hectic schedule.
“I fear injuries taking a toll on my team as a result, especially that we will be aiming to win both the Confederation Cup and the Egypt Cup.
“A mere league title has never been enough for us.”
Leopards lie in third place level on a single point with Tunisia’s Sfaxien, as Zamalek and South Africa’s Orlando Pirates look favorites to make it past the group stage.
(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)