Ahly and Zamalek will be desperate to win their respective games in the Egyptian Premier League this weekend to approach the anticipated Cairo derby in the best possible way.
Leaders Ahly are in a buoyant mood after climbing to the summit at the expense of arch-rivals Zamalek with a 2-1 comeback victory over ENPPI that boosted their hopes of clinching a seventh league title.
They will be firm favourites to finish as Egyptian champions if they avoid a defeat against Zamalek in Wednesday’s Cairo derby, but they first have to overcome another stiff test against bitter foes Ismaily, who virtually lost hopes of competing for the title after a bad run.
Ahly, who boast a two-point advantage over Zamalek and are nine clear of Ismaily, had their fortunes turned around by Portuguese coach Manuel Jose, who rescued the faltering side when he took over in January.
At some point Ahly were six points behind the success-starved Zamalek but they rapidly bridged the gap, with Jose making the most of an array of talents in the team’s midfield as well as finding a solution to the scarcity of attacking options by fielding the likes of Mauritania’s Dominique Da Silva and Mohamed “Gedo” Nagy upfront.
The return of Egypt striker Emad Meteb, who headed the winner over ENPPI after recovering from a broken rib injury, gives Ahly another option as they seek to capitalise on Ismaily’s poor run under Emad Soliman, who succeeded Dutch tactician Mark Wotte in April.
The match will be refereed by Belgian official Luc Wouters amid growing tensions in domestic football following January’s popular uprising, which toppled former President Hosni Mubarak but left security concerns hanging over the country.
Riots and chaotic scenes erupted in several league matches but the Egyptian Football Association and the interior ministry said they were determined to resume the competition.
Ahly will miss long-term absentee Mohamed Abou-Treika and injured winger Ahmed Shokri, while Ismaily will have to do without skipper Mohamed Hommos due to a knee complaint.
Few weeks ago, Zamalek appeared in pole position to end a league drought stretching back to 2004, but a surprise dip in form which saw them drop five points in their last five games threw that possibility into doubt.
The White Knights are desperate to claim the title on their centenary year, as is enthusiastic coach Hossam Hassan who is burdened with the task of bringing back the club’s glory days despite persistent financial problems, which prevented him from making the kind of big-name signings Ahly usually make.
They face an in-form Masry side who have not been defeated in six matches since the appointment of coach Taha Basri in early May. The fact that the match will be played in Port Said also gives the coastal club an advantage over Zamalek.
“A victory over Masry will boost our morale before facing Ahly. It will be key to helping us regain our position on top of the table,” Qatari winger Hussein Yasser, who joined Zamalek in January 2010 after ending an unsuccessful spell with the Red Devils, said.
Striker Ahmed Gaafar added: “I don’t believe that we now do not have a big chance of winning the title; this is nonsense.”
“Our goalless draw against El-Geish does not mean that we are out of the race. There are still five matches remaining; anything can happen.”
Towering frontman Gaafar returned to Zamalek’s squad after serving an automatic one-match suspension, which left Hassan with no option but to field disappointing Ivorian Abou Kone as a lone striker against El-Geish.