Egypt's most successful and popular sides Ahly and Zamalek have two decisive clashes scheduled for Sunday in the second round of the CAF Champions League against Ethiopian Coffee and Ivory Coast’s Africa Sports.
The White Castle, Zamalek, will be hosted in Abidjan at 15:30 GMT (17:30 Cairo time) after the Egyptians asked for a two-hour delay to avoid playing in high temperatures.
Hassan Shehata, Egypt’s most successful manager, stressed the importance of defence during the team’s last training session on the opponent’s soil, since Zamalek will be able to qualify even if they are beaten by a one-goal difference.
Their home match was held in the Military Stadium behind closed doors where Benin striker Razak Omotoyossi scored the match’s solitary goal.
Shehata is expected to rely on Omotoyossi today who shined during training, while veteran midfielder Ahmed Hassan – the world’s most-capped player – will fill the playmaker position in the absence of star player Mahmoud Abdel-Razik "Shikabala."
Right-winger Omar Gaber will replace injured Ahmed Samir, who travelled with the team to support them.
Even with fans' support, the match won’t be easy for Africa Sports' coach Joseph Antonio. The Italian coach would likely face sacking in the event of a defeat due to recent poor results by the team, who lost their last four domestic league matches.
Ahly must win
Zamalek's players (Photo: Bassam El-Zoghbi)
Ahly are playing their first official match on home soil since 1 February, when scores of their supporters were killed in clashes with rival Masry fans in Port Said Stadium.
Because of security concerns about possible trouble between fans, the Red Castle had no choice but to play their decisive African game behind closed doors in the military stadium at 19:00 CLT.
The Reds must beat Ethiopian Coffee to clinch the round-16 qualifying ticket, as the away match in Addis Ababa ended in a goalless draw.
Portuguese coach Manuel Jose is optimistic after he was able to prepare midfielders Walid Soliman and Mohamed Barakat and defender Hossam Ghaly, all of whom had been doubtful after sustaining minor injuries earlier. Barakat is now likely to play as right winger after Ahmed Fathi was ruled out due to a knee surgery.
The attacking midfield line will play an important role today and Jose is depending on his star trio – Mohamed Abou-Trieka, Mohamed Nagi "Geddo" and Brazilian Fabio Joniour – to use the short passes.
The visitors' coach Obato is in an easier position, as the draw helps the Ethiopians and, as he said, “half of Ahly’s power comes from their fans, who they will miss."
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