Egyptian duo Ahly and Zamalek evened up matters when they preferred not to break their fast during their African Champions League meeting last month but Sunday’s energy-sapping heat could give their opponents the edge in their second Group A encounters.
The Cairo rivals played out a 1-1 draw in the Red Sea resort of El-Gouna in a dull affair that saw both sides struggle to move the ball around in the second half, with fasting taking its toll on the players who had no choice but to accept an afternoon kick-off, given the lack of floodlights in the tiny 12,000-seat stadium.
The same stadium will host Ahly’s game against South Africa’s Orlando Pirates on Sunday after the Confederation of African Football (CAF) turned down a request by the Red Devils to postpone the match.
Matches are regularly moved outside Cairo due to lingering security concerns in the capital following the Egyptian army’s overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July.
Egyptian authorities are enforcing a crowd ban that is regularly violated by the hardcore supporters of Ahly and Zamalek, who attend games almost at will.
“The heat and the fact that we will be playing in front of empty seats will be a factor that will affect both teams. However, I hope the fasting period counts in our favour and we should take the game to them,” Orlando Pirates coach Roger de Sa was quoted as saying by South African media.
“Scoring early will kill off the nerves and I hope the game plan we have will work well.”
Ahly players insisted they would not break their fast during the game, so did their Zamalek counterparts as the White Knights face Congo’s AC Leopards away from home in another afternoon kick-off.
Absence of key players
“Coach Helmi Toulan told us we are free to decide whether to fast or not,” Zamalek defender Mahmoud Fathallah said.
“We know that fasting will definitely affect us, but all the players are determined not to break their fast.”
While Ahly can take heart from a start-studded squad, Zamalek are reeling from the absence of some key players, including those who fled the club’s financial woes including midfielders Ibrahim Salah and Alexis Mendomo and striker Abdoulaye Cisse.
They will take on Leopards without two veterans in goalkeeper Abdel-Wahed El-Sayed and former Egypt skipper Ahmed Hassan, who both fell out with Zamalek chairman Mamdouh Abbas over unpaid dues.
Central defender Salah Soliman and midfielder Nour El-Sayed are also injured, leaving Toulan with a selection headache.
“Our game against Leopards is decisive and crucial in our path towards the title. It’s the most difficult test that we should pass,” said Toulan, who took over at Zamalek following the departure of Brazilian coach Jorvan Vieira, who turned around the club’s fortunes in his brief one-year stint.
“We are eyeing all three points despite the problems we are facing. A win would shape our position in that group.”
Zamalek are eyeing their first Champions League title since 2002 while record winners Ahly are seeking to claim their second consecutive title and eighth overall.
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