The cause of a traumatic Ahly, who are still living in the shadow of the Port Said disaster, was not helped by a political turmoil back home as they open their Club World Cup campaign in Japan on Sunday.
The Red Devils used to dominate headlines during their previous three participations at the FIFA competition but their fourth appearance is overshadowed by an impasse in Egypt that saw supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Morsi engage in deadly clashes.
A controversial decree issued by Morsi last month, which shields his decisions from judicial review, sparked incessant protests that turned ugly when the president’s supporters confronted their foes in front of the presidential palace.
At least seven were killed and hundreds injured, reminding Ahly that a difficult year is not over yet. In February, dozens of their supporters died following a pitch invasion by the home Masry supporters in an ill-tempered Egyptian Premier League in coastal city Port Said.
Ahly lifted some of the gloom when they won the African Champions League following a 3-2 aggregate victory over Tunisia’s Esperance, extending their record to seven continental triumphs to take another shot at the Club World Cup.
They face Japan’s Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Sunday with an eye on a possible semi-final clash against Copa Libertadores winners Corinthians of Brazil.
“I’m worried over the concentration of my players because of what’s going on in Egypt. The thoughts of most of the players are filled with what’s happening, and they regularly want to contact their relatives to make sure they are safe,” Ahly coach Hossam El-Badry said.
“We are trying to turn all the problems into motivations to make a new achievement. My experience in the past three World Cup appearances [as assistant coach] is a big asset,” he added.
Two of Ahly’s Club World Cup appearances ended in disappointments but the third was a remarkable one, with the Cairo powerhouse finishing third in 2006.
However, TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo eclipsed them after finishing as runners up in 2010 following a defeat by then European champions Inter Milan in the final.
"It’s a personal challenge for me and a challenge for Ahly. My aim is to safeguard Ahly’s status in African and international football," El-Badry said.
"I’m dreaming of a new achievement. Ahly always play to win trophies and my task as a coach is to maintain that."
Hiroshima qualified for the quarter-finals after claiming a 1-0 victory over part-timers Auckland City of New Zealand in the preliminary round.
El-Badry will have a fully-fit squad to choose from after left-back Sayed Moawad and attacking midfielder Walid Soliman, who scored a splendid goal against Esperance in the Champions League final, shrugged off injuries.
He is also boosted by the return from injury of striker Emad Meteb, who might still find it difficult to break into the starting line-up, thanks to the impressive form of forward Mohamed Nagy ‘Gedo’, who is gradually regaining the form that saw him finish as the 2010 Nations Cup top scorer with 10 goals to help Egypt win the trophy.
“I’m delighted to be here and play in my first FIFA competition. I hope we can reach the final and take on Chelsea and [Fernando] Torres, who’s one of my favourite players,” Gedo said in an interview with FIFA.com.
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