File photo of an Egyptian Premier League game between Ismaily and Zamalek (Ahram)
Stuttering Zamalek, who are still trying to hit top gear under new coach Augusto Inacio, face Ismaily on Wednesday with the aim of cementing third place in the Egyptian Premier League standings as their hopes of an African Champions League spot are all but over.
A series of disappointing results saw Zamalek slip to third, with perennial rivals Ahly and surprise package Maqassa vying for the title.
Maqassa's 2-0 win over Aswan on Tuesday took them 16 points clear of Zamalek in the last Champions League qualifying spot with eight matches remaining for the latter, effectively ending their hopes of a top-two finish.
The White Knights can now focus on holding onto third place to qualify for the Confederation Cup, Africa's secondary club competition.
They face competition from Masry and Smouha, who are only four points behind Zamalek with a game in hand.
The 2015 league winners showed signs of relative improvement under new Portuguese boss Inacio, winning twice and drawing once in their first four games under his guidance after setting an unwanted record of a five-match winless run just before he arrived.
"Zamalek are improving day by day," football director Ismail Youssef said on the club's official website.
"He must be given time so that the players can adapt to his style."
Ismaily are the last club to win the league apart from Ahly and Zamalek, having clinched the title on a dramatic final day in 2002, but have since been on a downward slide.
They lie eight with nothing to play for this term but are still considered tough opponents for Zamalek, who will still miss key playmaker Ayman Hefni due to injury.
"We must put the [0-0] draw with Tanta behind us. We have to focus on beating a strong opponent in Ismaily," Inacio said.
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