Kano Pillars knocked out Ahly at the Champions League last-16 stage in 2009
Six-time African champions Ahly will be looking to avoid an upset similar to the one they experienced in 2009 when they face Zambia’s ZESCO United away from home on Saturday.
The last time Portuguese coach Manuel Jose led Ahly in the Champions League, Africa’s premier club competition, the Red Devils suffered a premature exit at the hands of Nigerian side Kano Pillars.
Pillars caused a huge upset at the last-16 stage after eliminating Ahly on the away-goal rule following a 3-3 aggregate draw, a result Jose will be keen to bypass after returning to the club in January to lead them for a third spell.
“We are fully ready to take on ZESCO on Saturday,” the 65-year-old, who guided Ahly to four out of their six Champions League accolades, said on the club’s official website.
“We are looking for a positive result in Zambia that would make our task easier in the second leg in Cairo.”
Ahly are in bullish mood after claiming two consecutive league victories over Ittihad El-Shorta and El-Geish following the competition’s surprise resumption, although they could not bridge a six-point gap with leaders and arch-rivals Zamalek.
The Cairo giants will face ZESCO without injured striker Mohamed Fadl and goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy.
Mauritania frontman Dominique Da Silva, who scored in Ahly’s victory over South African outfit SuperSport United in the round of 32, may be given the chance to start the game.
ZESCO coach Fighton Simukonda said he was confident his side can overcome Ahly and reach the Champions League group stage.
“I said before we did not fear Ahly, because that is true. We don’t fear any team,” Simukonda was quoted as saying on the official website of the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
“Of course, we have respect for all our opponents. We know that games at this level are always tough and competitive but we’re ready for them.
“We believe in our ability and we’re driven by our desire to succeed because we have a good enough team to compete very well at this level.
“Last round, we had good games against the Buffaloes, both in Ndola and Mbabane. But we have put those victories behind us now. Now our focus is on Ahly because they are the last ones standing in our way in our aim to get to the group stages.”
ZESCO are making their third appearance in the Champions League after dominating Zambian football in the past few years.
Ahly are the record winners of the elite competition with six titles under their belt, one ahead of Zamalek.