Preview: Zamalek facing do-or-die Champions League clash in Ethiopia

Hatem Maher, Saturday 4 May 2013

Zamalek are enjoying one of their best Egyptian league runs in the last decade but a surprising African Champions League exit from the preliminaries remains a viable possibility

Zamalek
Zamalek needed a late goal to salvage a 1-1 draw at home to Ethiopia's Saint George in the first leg (photo: Ahram)

Zamalek's impressive domestic run will be overshadowed by a stunning African Champions League exit if the Egyptian side fail to overcome Ethiopia's Saint George in a crucial away clash on Sunday.

The Cairo side have proved too strong for their Egyptian Premier League opponents so far, collecting maximum 30 points from 10 games in Group B to make their best league start since winning the last of their 11 titles in 2004.

They were expected to seal smooth passage to the Champions League group stage at the expense of minnows Saint George but they were caught cold in Cairo after the Ethiopians produced a lively display to hold them to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the competition's round of 16.

Zamalek could have even suffered a stunning loss had it not been for a late strike by Burkinabe striker Abdoulaye Cisse, who is gradually establishing himself as key player after playing a bit-part role with the club since joining last year.

"Prior to the game we were told that it is literally impossible to get anything from Zamalek on their home ground. But once we got underway on the pitch we saw that it was possible even to beat them on their home ground," St. George defender Biadglign Elias told Cafonline.com.

"Of course they created more chances in that match and they play a well organized football and put us under pressure. Despite all this we competed strongly and gave then a good challenge in that match."

'Poor pitch'

Zamalek have not won Africa's elite club competition since lifting the last of their five trophies in 2002. They had to live in the shadows of arch-rivals Ahly in the following years after their Cairo foes won the title four times to take their tally to a record seven triumphs.

Zamalek would need to win in Ethiopia or secure a high-scoring draw if they are to avoid an early elimination.

"It was clear for us that the Saint George pitch is very poor after we watched their game against Mali's Djoliba, although the grass is natural," Zamalek's assistant coach Osama Nabih said on the club's website.

"But we are working to overcome this problem. We are going to Ethiopia just for a win that would lift us to the quarter-final.

"The experience of our players will be key in helping us get over that problem. We played and won many games on poor pitches. I'm very optimistic," he added.

Zamalek have no injury worries ahead of the game.

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