In 2006, Ahly came within a whisker of reaching the Club World Cup final after putting on a superb display against Internacional. Six years later, another Brazilian outfit stands in the way of the Red Devils to make history.
Ahly, the record holders of the African Champions League with seven titles under their belt, meet Copa Libertadores winners Corinthians on Wednesday with an eye on a historic berth in the final, where they could possibly meet European champions Chelsea.
They won the bronze medal in the 2006 edition for their best finish in three appearances after narrowly losing 2-1 to Internactional, but their achievement was eclipsed by fellow African side TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who finished as runners up in 2010.
Ahly have a chance to emulate Mazembe’s feat and better their 2006 third-place finish when they meet Corinthians, having claimed a 2-1 hard-fought win over Japan’s Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the quarterfinal.
“We have to dream, our fans have to dream. We will do our best to reach the final and win the title,” Ahly coach Hossam El-Badry, who was an assistant to highly-successful manager Manuel Jose during the team’s previous Club World Cup appearances, told the club’s television channel.
Ahly’s display against Hiroshima was devoid of the panache that characterized their Champions League triumph, with the team affected by unfamiliar cold weather and a serious knee injury to skipper Hossam Ghaly, who faces a lengthy spell on the sidelines after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in the first half.
Their static defence was also exposed by Hiroshima, whose players made the most of their pace to match Ahly’s more skillful counterparts.
The Cairo giants are expected to face a sterner test against Corinthians, who won the first Club World Cup in 2000.
“Games against Brazilian opponents are entertaining and difficult,” said Ahly’s mercurial midfielder Mohamed Barakat, who came on as a second-half substitute against Hiroshima.
“Egyptian players enjoy facing Brazilians, but a win is always difficult. I hope we can win and please our fans.”
Corinthians are looking to end a barren run for South Americans, who have failed to win the Club World Cup for the past five years. European teams outshined them, with Barcelona winning it twice in 2009 and 2011.
The winners of Wednesday’s clash will play either Chelsea or Mexico’s Monterrey, who meet in the other semi-final on Thursday.
"We don't have the luxury of thinking about Chelsea. Chelsea are one step later. We have a difficult match tomorrow first,” Corinthians captain Alessandro said.
Ahly will only miss Ghaly, who is expected to be replaced by 19-year-old midfielder Mahmoud Hassan, known as “Trezeguet”.
(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports)