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Friday, 23 April 2021

Ahly, Zamalek deny COVID-19 outbreaks as rumours swirl ahead of high-stakes final

COVID-19 infections cast a shadow over the anticipated Ahly-Zamalek African Champions League final

Hatem Maher , Tuesday 24 Nov 2020
FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Egyptian Premier League - Zamalek v Al Ahly - Cairo International Stadium, Cairo, Egypt - August 22, 2020 Zamalek's Ferjani Sassi in action with Al Ahly's Mohamed Magdi Kafsha REUTERS
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Normally, the fans of Cairo giants Ahly and Zamalek keep their fingers crossed that no key player gets injured before a high-stakes derby. But now, COVID-19 has intensified their fears before an anticipated African Champions League final.

Both teams meet in Cairo on Friday in arguably the most important match of their century-old rivalry amid a pandemic that is accelerating, with Egypt bracing for a second wave of the highly-contagious coronavirus.

Ahly and Zamalek players undergo PCR tests on a near daily basis, with fans scrolling up and down their news feed to make sure their team is fit heading into the first Champions League final that features clubs from the same country.

The fans of record eight-time African champions Ahly were first on the anxious seat when news broke that three players of their squad had tested positive.

The club confirmed that winger Mahmoud Kahraba, midfielder Saleh Gomaa and attacking midfielder Walid Soliman were all infected. Although none is a regular starter, Kahraba and the veteran Soliman can make all the difference when they come off the bench.

The news also brought some grim prospects. Soliman, for example, embraced some of his teammates when he scored twice in a 2-1 victory over second-tier Abu Qir Fertilizers in the Egypt Cup quarters last weekend.

So what are the odds of further infections?

Unfounded reports started to come out that more players contracted COVID-19, including indispensable goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shennawi, one of Ahly's standout performers this season.

But Ahly were quick to rubbish all rumours, saying that the last PCR tests carried out on Monday turned out negative results, apart from the three infected players.

It was then Zamalek's turn to feel the heat.

Key defender Mahmoud El-Wensh, who stole the limelight with a series of solid displays in the past few months to earn a rare Egypt call-up, was diagnosed with coronavirus on Monday, leaving him highly unlikely to take part in the final.

Rumours then indicated that defensive midfielder Tarek Hamed and in-form Moroccan winger Achraf Bencharki also fell ill, but the duo took to the social media to dispel any doubts over their availability.

"Ridiculous rumours," said Hamed, who is fondly called by his fans the Lionheart. Bencharki, Zamalek's top scorer in the Champions League with nine goals, also said he was fully fit and raring to go.

But there is still one last round of PCR tests that would be carried out on both teams under the supervision of African governing body CAF on Wednesday. Until results come out, supporters can't rest assured that no further infections will hit their teams.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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