Preview: Ahly, Zamalek lock horns behind closed doors

Hatem Maher, Saturday 21 Jul 2012

Ahly and Zamalek will have to do without their fans for the first time in the Cairo derby history as they face off in Sunday's African Champions League tie

Ahly & Zamalek

Bitter rivals Ahly and Zamalek, who used to bank heavily on the enthusiastic support of their fans, will need to find another source of motivation when they meet in an anticipated African Champions League clash at Cairo's Military Academy Stadium on Sunday.

The white-clad and red-clad fans, traditionally separated by an empty section in the stands to avoid any flare-up of tensions, will be missing for the first time in the Cairo derby history due to lingering security concerns in Egypt.

Fans have not been allowed to attend any game in the country since February's infamous Port Said tragedy, which left dozens dead and led to the indefinite suspension of domestic football activities, with Ahly and Zamalek restricted to few competitive games in Africa's premier club competition.

Ahly fans used to outnumber their Zamalek counterparts but both sides equally spiced up the popular affairs, ensuring some excitement even when the Cairo rivals produced subdued performances.

"Fans’ absence will definitely affect both teams’ performance," Ahly coach Hossam El-Badry, who took charge of the team for a second spell following the departure of highly-successful manager Manuel Jose of Portugal, said in an interview with CAF's official website.

"We hoped they could have attended the game to give the derby its regular atmosphere. But it remains a big game despite being played behind closed doors.

"I hope the game ends peacefully and in a way that justifies the big names of Ahly and Zamalek in Egypt and on the continent."

Ahly and Zamalek played out a 2-2 draw the last time they met in the Champions League, a group-stage game in 2008.

Derby jinx

Zamalek have often found themselves on the back foot going into the Cairo derby in recent seasons, the success-starved side enduring a 12-match winless streak against Ahly, whose 2008 Champions League triumph set a record of six continental titles, one ahead of Zamalek.

The White Knights hardly see any positive signs to end that jinx, having opened their Champions League group-stage campaign with a 3-2 defeat at Ghana's Chelsea after conceding a stoppage-time goal.

Ahly, in contrast, were highly convincing in seeing off TP Mazembe of the DR Congo with a 2-1 victory in Cairo, taking advantage of the abundance of attacking midfielders at their disposal.

Zamalek are struggling for creativity as they failed to find an adequate replacement for dazzling winger Mahmoud Abdel-Razek 'Shikabala', banned by the club for an indefinite period following his touchline row with coach Hassan Shehata in a Champions League preliminary round game in May.

"The Ahly-Zamalek game might look like a friendly one because of the absence of the fans," former Egypt boss Shehata, whose future in under scrutiny, said on Zamalek's website.

 "We always play for a win, and I have the utmost confidence in the abilities of my players to fulfill the ambitions of the fans," he added.

Zamalek were dealt a defensive blow before the match after Salah Soliman and Hani Saied were ruled out due to injury and suspension respectively, leaving Shehata in a dilemma.

Hamada Talba, who joined Zamalek on loan from Maqassa, is likely to partner Mahmoud Fathallah in the heart of the team's defence, which has come in for fierce criticism lately for letting in some soft goals.

Zamalek will also miss combative striker Amr Zaki, who could not recover from a knee injury in time to make the game.

Ahly have no injury worries ahead of the game. They were also boosted by the return of key trio Emad Meteb, Ahmed Fathi and Mohamed Abou-Treika, who represent the three over-age players in Egypt's squad for the Olympic Games in London.

Previous Champions League meetings:

Zamalek 1-2 Ahly (2005 semi-final, first leg)
Ahly 2-0 Zamalek (2005 semi-final, second leg)
Zamalek 1-2 Ahly (2008 group stage)
Ahly 2-2 Zamalek (2008 group stage)

Probable line-ups:

Ahly: Sherif Ekramy, Ahmed Fathi, Wael Gomaa, Mohamed Naguib, Sayed Moawad, Hossam Ghaly, Hossam Ashour, Mohamed Abou-Treika, Walid Soliman, Mohamed Barakat, Emad Meteb

Zamalek: Abdel-Wahed El-Sayed, Hazem Emam, Mahmoud Fathallah, Hamada Tolba, Mohamed Abdel-Shafi, Alexis Mendomo, Ibrahim Salah, Nour El-Sayed, Ahmed Hassan, Islam Awad, Abdoulaye Cisse

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