Preview: Ecstatic Ahly take on Merrikh in Champions League quest

Mahmoud Sheleib , Monday 15 Feb 2021

The Reds will be fighting for their first three points against Sudan’s Merrikh, to share the lead of Group A with Tanzania’s Simba, which defeated DR Congo’s Vita Club 1-0 in the first round

Ahly's midfielder Mohamed Magdy (R) runs after the ball during the FIFA Club World Cup 3rd place football match between Egypt's Al-Ahly vs Brazil's Palmeiras at the Education City Stadium in the Qatari city of Ar-Rayyan on February 11, 2021. AFP

Just a few days after claiming the bronze medal in the Club World Cup, defending champions Ahly will kick off their African Champions League group stage campaign against Sudanese giants Merrikh on Tuesday.

The Reds, who have nine Champions League titles under their belt, beat Brazilian Champions Palmeiras for the third place, becoming the only African side to claim a medal twice in the elite FIFA club competition, following their maiden bronze medal in 2006.

Ahly skipper Mohamed El-Shennawi stressed that celebrations were over and they’ve turned over the World Cup page, and are now fully concentrated on their upcoming goals.

“We seek to keep the Champions League title and win it for the 10th time in order to return to participate in the Club World Cup,” the 32-year-old keeper told Ahly’s official website.

While high on confidence, the Cairo giants have been hit by injuries that may put some restrictions on the choices of coach Pitso Mosimane.

Ahly will have to do without Ali Maaloul, Ayman Ashraf and Salah Mohsen, who sustained injuries during the Club World Cup. Veteran forward Walid Soliman remains unavailable with a hamstring injury, and most recently rising forward Taher Mohamed Taher, who made a big impact during the Club World Cup, suffered a muscle strain in training.

Hussein El-Shahat is another notable absentee from this game, as he is still serving a four-match suspension from CAF over the incidents that followed the latest Champions League final.

Ahly football director Sayed Abdel-Hafiz stressed that the game against the Sudanese side will not be easy.

“Merrikh came early to Cairo in order to prepare themselves well for Ahly, and the match is expected to be tough, as all the teams seek positive results in the group stages.

“Winning the bronze medal at the World Cup is good, but the tournament is over and now we are only focused on the game,” he said.

On the other side, Merrikh’s Tunisian coach Nasreddine Nabi has revealed his optimism to achieve something positive in Cairo.

“Ahly is a big team that is highly respected at Merrikh, but we won’t drop back in the field,” Nabi told local Sudanese media.

“We will play to achieve what we’ve planned for, as we know everything about Ahly and we’ve observed pretty well their participation at the World Cup,” he added.

Tanzania's Simba have gone to the top of Group A after beating DR Congo’s Vita Club 1-0 on Friday.

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