Preview: Fan anger overshadows Ahly, Zamalek's home African clashes

Hatem Maher , Friday 18 Mar 2016

Ahly host Angola's Recreativo do Libolo in Alexandria at 18:00 Cairo time (16:00 GMT) while Zamalek take on Cameroon's Union Douala in Cairo two hours later

Riot police stand on guard as Egypt
Riot police stand on guard as Egypt's Ahly fans cheer during a Confederation Cup clash in 2014 (Reuters)

The hardcore fans of Egypt's leading clubs Ahly and Zamalek vowed to attend Saturday's African Champions League games in Alexandria and Cairo respectively despite repeated warnings from the interior ministry, prompting fears of a possible confrontation.

With the death of more than 20 Zamalek supporters last year still fresh in the memory, there are widespread worries over another deadly stand-off when Ahly host Angola's Recreativo do Libolo in Alexandria and Zamalek take on Cameroon's Union Douala in Cairo in the second leg of the Champions League round of 32.

Both are expected to seal smooth progress, with Zamalek defending a 1-0 first leg lead and Ahly needing to win by any margin to qualify for the last-16 knockout phase following a goalless draw in Angola.

But the big question is how security forces could deal with the expected influx of diehard supporters after issuing directives to both clubs to put severe restrictions on fan attendance in both games.

Egyptian Premier League games are already being played behind closed doors but such crowd bans are not permitted by the Confederation of African Football (CAF).

Consequently, Ahly and Zamalek said the few hundreds who would be allowed to attend their respective matches on Saturday must be general assembly members, drawing a sharp rebuke from Ultras Ahlawy and Ultras White Knights fan groups.

"The fans did not commit any crimes by stating their desire to support their team in their African campaign," Ultras White Knights said in a statement on their official Facebook page.

"If football is run in this country on the basis of fear of a particular person, football fans are still capable of shouldering the responsibility of arranging themselves [to attend games] and make sure there won't be any troubles," the group added in reference to Zamalek's outspoken chairman Mortada Mansour.

"Consequently, the fans have decided to attend Saturday's clash against Union Douala at Cairo's Petrosport Stadium."

Ultras Ahlawy issued a similar statement, saying the Red Devil fans will go to Alexandria to "exercise their right of supporting their team".

Security concerns

Security officials are playing it safe by imposing a crowd ban in domestic matches, which was re-enforced after more than 20 Zamalek supporters died in a stampede after being tear-gassed by police forces while attempting to enter Cairo's Air Defence Stadium before a league game on 8 February, 2015.

Since then, the fans of Ahly and Zamalek have relentlessly pressed for the fan to be lifted, but to no avail.

The interior ministry warned against any violations of the rules it had set over fan attendance.

"The ministry stresses on the necessity of adhering to the instructions it had issued over holding football matches without spectators," it said in a brief statement.

Zamalek grabbed their second victory in three matches under Scottish coach Alex McLeish when they secured a precious win at Douala, thanks to a superb long-range shot from Burkinabe defender Mohamed Koffi.

However, the former Rangers, Birmingham, Aston Villa and Scotland boss warned of complacency.

"We should not count on our first-leg advantage. Our opponents know us better now and they are a good and organized team," he said.

Ahly, who won the last of their record eight Champions League titles in 2013, squandered several clear-cut chances in a 0-0 draw at Recreativo but they should finish them off at Alexandria's Borg El-Arab Stadium.

The Red Devils will miss first-choice goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy and midfield duo Saleh Gomaa and Hossam Ashour because of injury.

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