Preview: Egypt's Zamalek favourites to advance at expense of coronavirus-stricken Raja

Ahram Online , Tuesday 3 Nov 2020

Zamalek hold a 1-0 first-leg advantage heading into Wednesday's clash against Raja in the second leg of the African Champions League semis

Zamalek v Raja

Zamalek will be favourites to join Cairo rivals Ahly in the African Champions League final when they host Raja on Wednesday, with the Moroccan side having had little time to prepare after their squad was hit by more than a dozen coronavirus infections.

Although most of Raja players have recovered from the highly-contagious virus after the semifinal second leg was postponed twice, a fully-fit squad could hardly assemble before the match.

Raja will still miss three players who have yet to recover, including first-choice goalkeeper Anas Zniti. The others are left-back Abdeljalil Jbira and defensive midfielder Mohamed Douik, who did not play in the first leg.

A solid Zamalek side hold a clear advantage heading into the second leg at Cairo International Stadium, having snatched a 1-0 first-leg victory in Casablanca last month, thanks to a first-half header from in-form Moroccan winger Achraf Bencharki.

They will miss deep-lying forward Youssef Ibrahim, a key member of their starting line-up, due to injury but should welcome back influential defensive duo Mahmoud Alaa and Mahmoud Hamdi, both of whom shook off injuries in time.

But Raja coach Jamal Sellami is adamant his side can overturn the deficit and beat the five-time African champions at their own venue.

"Zamalek is a tough opponent but we will score in Egypt and we will beat them," Sellami told a Moroccan radio station on Sunday.

"My team is not fit physically fit in comparison with Zamalek but I have many experienced players who are capable of making the difference in any moment during the game."

Zamalek's Portuguese coach Jaime Pacheco, appointed in a rescue mission following the shock resignation of French boss Patrice Carteron, is likely to adopt a trademark cautious approach.

Under Carteron and Pacheco, the White Knights usually close down spaces at the back and mainly rely on Bencharki and fellow winger Ahmed Zizo to finish off their pacy counter attacks at the other end.

Zamalek are also buoyed by fulfilling one of their remaining targets of the season, having finished second in the Egyptian Premier League to seal a spot in next season's Champions League regardless of how they fare in this year's competition.

They are eyeing their first Champions League crown since 2002.

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