Ahly playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika
A resurgent Mohamed Abou-Treika will shoulder Ahly’s hopes of breaking down Esperance in Friday’s anticipated CAF Champions League clash which will determine who will book a semi-final berth.
The veteran playmaker proved doubters wrong after giving a virtuous display in the 1-1 draw with Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca, which suggested that he still retains the skills and agility that helped him lead Ahly to a host of trophies after joining in 2004, including three Champions League accolades.
He set up Mohamed Nagy “Gedo” for Ahly’s opener with a neat flick and bamboozled Wydad’s defense with his trademark precise passes although the Red Devils eventually failed to claim a much-needed win that would have put them into a far more comfortable position against Esperance.
Ahly, who won the last of their six Champions League titles in 2008, are third in Group B on six points, one behind Wydad and three adrift of leaders Esperance with one match remaining.
They need to beat Esperance by a two-goal margin at Cairo Stadium to batter the Tunisians in the head-to-head record and secure a last-four berth regardless of the outcome of the other group match between Wydad and Mouloudia Alger, who lie at the bottom with two points.
If Ahly win by a one-goal margin, they will hope Wydad stumble against Mouloudia.
“We deserved to win against Wydad,” said Abou-Treika, who was given a standing ovation by the Moroccan fans when he was substituted with few minutes remaining.
“We should atone for that result when we face Esperance to ensure our qualification for the next round.”
Abou-Treika reached the pinnacle of glory when he scored a memorable last-gasp goal which gave Ahly the 2006 Champions League title at the expense of Sfaxien. He will be hoping to haunt another Tunisian team on Friday.
Ahly, who have no injury worries, will have central midfielder Hossam Ghaly available after he missed the Wydad encounter due to automatic suspension.
All eyes will be on Ultras Ahlawy, a group of hardcore Ahly supporters, following the clashes with police that left scores injured during a low-key Egyptian Cup game against third-tier Kima Aswan.
The confrontation dominated headlines for several days, with many questioning whether the police used excessive force to deal with the enthusiastic fans, who were heard chanting offensive songs against former interior minister Habib El-Adly and ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
Ultras Ahlawy, disgruntled after dozen of their members were arrested, initially considered boycotting the match but changed their mind following a meeting with Ahly chairman Hassan Hamdy.
Their presence could fuel the security fears that have been hanging over the country since the January Revolution, after which domestic football was blighted with constant pitch invasions and object-throwing incidents.
“I do not fear the fans of Ahly. We know how to deal with such situations,” Esperance coach Nabil Maaloul told the pre-match news conference.