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Preview: Zamalek in search of first league win over Ahly since 2007

Zamalek have only managed to beat Ahly in two Egypt Cup finals, failing to defeat their arch-rivals in the league since 2007

Omar Zaazou , Wednesday 28 Dec 2016
Bassem Morsi of Zamalek celebrates the first goal in the game against Ahly. (REUTERS)

Zamalek will be looking for their first Egyptian league win over arch-rivals Ahly since May 2007 when both sides face off in a mouth-watering derby clash at Cairo's Petrosport Stadium on Thursday.

The Whites had already managed to break their Ahly hoodoo with a 2-0 Egypt Cup final win under former manager Jesualdo Ferreira in 2015, having failed to beat their perennial rivals in 21 consecutive games in all competitions.

Their Egypt Cup feat was repeated again the following season, when another 3-1 final victory against Ahly secured Zamalek their second domestic cup in a row at the expense of their bitter foes.

Despite finally being able to break their Ahly jinx, Zamalek's wins only came in the domestic cup, with the two league games between both finals ending in a 2-0 win for Ahly and a scoreless draw.

Mohamed Helmi, who was appointed as Zamalek's manager for a second spell late in November, will be keen to beat Ahly this time around, after seeing a dominant display from his side against Ahly last season end with a goalless stalemate.

The decision to reinstate Helmi came following a run of unconvincing league displays under former boss Moemen Soliman and caretaker manager Mohamed Salah – who remains in his post as assistant coach.

Despite spilling two vital points away at minnows Aswan in Helmi's second game in charge, Zamalek's displays slightly improved in their past two games against El-Entag El-Harby and newcomers Sharqeya.

The return of fit-again playmaker Mohamed Ibrahim in particular has come as a boost for Zamalek, with the flamboyant midfielder registering two assists in four league games since making his comeback from injury.

But Helmi will lament the absence of right-back Osama Ibrahim due to automatic suspension, after the defender's performance has notably improved of late as he opened the scoring in the 2-0 win over Sharqeya with an audacious run into the box.

Striker Bassem Morsi, who seems to have finally captured his form of late, has been cleared to take part against Ahly after missing the Sharqeya win through injury, with dazzling playmaker Hefni also ready to play after missing last week's league game.

Target man Emmanuel Mayuka has been ruled out due to a groin problem, with Stanley Ohawuchi and Ahmed Gaafar all ready to lead the line when needed.

Ahly lack Hegazy, Rabia

Ahly, on the other side, will be hoping they will not bear the brunt of the absence of center-back duo Ahmed Hegazy and Rami Rabia, with the latter particularly unlucky to be sidelined again after returning from a long-term injury.  

The absence of the duo will leave them with only Mohamed Naguib and Saad Samir at the heart of the defense, as the latter will be hoping of a much better display after being largely responsible of two goals conceded against Zamalek in last season's cup final.

Elsewhere, defending champions Ahly have no major problems, with Hossam Ashour, deep-lying playmaker Hossam Ghaly and fit-again Amr El-Sulaya all available to dictate the play.

Going forward, attacking midfielders Walid Soliman and Abdallah El-Said, who starred in Egypt's World Cup qualifying wins over Congo and Ghana, are all present to unsettle the Zamalek defense, with Saleh Gomaa also included.

Nigerian forward Junior Ajayi is likely to lead the line for Ahly if manager Hossam El-Badry opted for dynamism upfront. Center-forward Marwan Mohsen and veteran Emad Meteb are also there giving El-Badry different options.

Ahly will be entering the game with high morale after managing to come through a difficult run of fixtures unscathed, having beaten rivals Maqassa, Smouha and Hossam Hassan's Masry.

Moreover, they will be determined to avenge last season's cup final defeat at the hands of Zamalek, who emerged winners despite being on the backfoot for the majority of the game.

A victory over Zamalek would also mean Ahly will go seven points clear of their arch-rivals, provided that the latter win their two rescheduled games which include a clash with Maqassa.

The match was preceded by controversy as to the match venue, date and the game officials, with Zamalek president Mortada Mansour voicing his discontent with the appointment of Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai.

The outspoken club chief has cited 'two penalties' for Zamalek the referee had waved away in last season's derby which ended with a 2-0 win for Ahly.

Zamalek, who are looking to dethrone Ahly after losing the league title to them last season, are currently third of the league table on 34 points, eight adrift of their arch foes who are on top of the table but played two matches more. 

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