Egypt's wounded Ahly have nothing in mind but how to rescue their season after their failure to win any domestic title in more than a decade, with South Africa's Orlando Pirates representing the penultimate hurdle towards a second straight African Confederation Cup title.
The Red Devils are still licking their wounds after suffering their first Cairo derby defeat since 2007, with arch rivals Zamalek winning the Egypt Cup following a 2-0 victory last Monday to complete the domestic double.
Zamalek's cup triumph came less than two months after they won the Premier League to end the eight-year hegemony of Ahly, who failed to grasp any domestic trophy for the first time since 2004 and risk finishing the season empty-handed if they stumble against Orlando Pirates in the Confederation Cup semis.
The Pirates host the defending champions in the first leg in Johannesburg on Saturday, hoping to avenge a painful 3-1 defeat in the final of the elite African Champions League in 2013.
"Losing a trophy is not the end of the world, we can still make amends," said Ahly's under-fire coach Fathi Mabrouk, who many fans called for his departure after questioning his tactics against Zamalek.
"We will play to win against Orlando Pirates because we want to clinch the title and make it up for the fans."
Ahly finished on top of Group A with 13 points from six games, ahead of second-placed Etoile Sahel of Tunisia on goal difference while the Pirates were second in Group B on 12 points, three behind leaders Zamalek.
The Pirates were handed a bitter footballing lesson in their last group-stage game, slumping to an embarrassing 4-1 defeat by Zamalek in Cairo.
"I think Zamalek without a doubt are the best team, without a shadow of doubt, and I think we’ve got a good chance to beat Ahly,” the Pirates coach Eric Tinkler told South African magazine Kickoff.
"It is important we score some goals at home and we don't concede so that we take something there to protect.
"It's a semi-final and I think if anything, it is going to be a tough encounter. It's going back to 2013 when we played them. It's payback time and it is something the players always wanted.
"Right at the beginning of this competition, they wanted to meet Ahly and now they’ve got that opportunity and they’ve got to come out and produce the goods."
The Pirates will have to do without suspended defenders Happy Jele and Siyabonga Sangweni as well as influential skipper Oupa Manyisa, who is nursing an injury.
Ahly almost have a fully-fit squad to choose from but new defenders Ahmed Hegazy and Rami Rabia will still not be available as they are not registered in the club's African roster.
"We will have to be very cautious at the back. Look what happened to Barcelona when they lost 4-1 to Celta Vigo," said Mabrouk, whose side became the first Egyptian club to win the Confederation Cup when they defeated Ivory Coast's Sewe Sport in a two-legged final under Spanish manager Juan Garrido last year.
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