Egyptian duo Ahly and Zamalek are reeling because of recent poor run and political upheaval in their divided country as they face tough African Champions League clashes away to AC Leopards and Orlando Pirates respectively on Saturday.
Both sides are eyeing much-needed victories to keep alive their chances of booking a semi-final spot, having managed to bag only one point from their opening two games in Group A of Africa’s elite club competition.
Ahly coach Mohamed Youssef called on his players to put a painful 3-0 home defeat by South Africa’s Orlando Pirates behind them and fully focus on the Leopards encounter in Congo, but his request might fall on deaf ears because of a political turmoil in Egypt that could affect his team during the game.
According to local reports, veteran playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika might start on the bench despite recovering from injury because he is distraught after a police crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo and the ensuing clashes in several cities left more than 600 dead on Wednesday.
Abou-Treika, who is widely considered as one of Egypt’s best-ever footballers, is a supporter of Egypt’s ousted president Mohamed Morsi.
Zamalek, who are preparing for another crunch tie at Orlando, said on their official website that the players were worried over the ongoing turmoil in Egypt.
“The first team players phoned their families in Egypt to make sure they are safe,” said the White Knights, who played out a 1-1 draw with Ahly before slumping to a 1-0 loss at Leopards.
Both sides should avoid away defeats to remain in the hunt for a semi-final place. Orlando Pirates and Leopards have four points each on top of the group.
Zamalek are struggling to cope with the departure of several key players, including defensive midfielder Ibrahim Salah and Burkinabe striker Abdoulaye Cisse, who fled the club’s financial woes in the summer.
“We came to South Africa just to win. We are ready for the match and the so-called home advantage has no influence in the Champions League, especially in the quarters and semis,” Zamalek coach Helmi Toulan said.
“We want to continue our path towards the title. We have to stop the progress of Orlando Pirates.”
Ahly will miss three regular starters against Leopards. Right-back Ahmed Fathi, defensive midfielder Hossam Ashour and striker Ahmed Abdel-Zaher are unavailable due to suspension.
Long-term absentee Emad Meteb is also out, leaving Youssef with a shortage of options upfront.
Zamalek welcome back keeper and skipper Abdel-Wahed El-Sayed and veteran midfielder Ahmed Hassan after they missed the defeat by Leopards after falling out with club chairman Mamdouh Abbas. Striker Ahmed Gaafar and defender Mahmoud Fathallah will miss out due to automatic suspension.
Ahly, the Champions League record winners, are eyeing their second consecutive title and eighth in their history while success-starved Zamalek are chasing their first continental triumph since 2002.
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