North African rivalry is unlikely to be as fierce as it used to be when Tunisian Club Africain hosts Egyptian giants Zamalek on Sunday in the first leg of the CAF Champions League round of 16.
Egypt and Tunisia are revelling in the success of their uprisings, which brought an end to decades of ruling by presidents Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, respectively.
Tunisia initiated the mass protests and Egypt followed suit a few weeks later. Scenes of jubilation erupted in both countries and they have been enjoying a supportive relationship with each other ever since.
In October of last year a Champions League two-legged tie between Egyptian champions Ahly and Tunisia’s Esperance was marred by a few ugly and controversial incidents, but the story is expected to be different this time around.
“The Tunisians are always hospitable. They warmly welcome us whenever we go there,” Zamalek chairman Galal Ibrahim told Ahram Online.
“I expect a very friendly match between the two brothers.”
Zamalek coach Hossam Hassan also believes there will be no room for tensions despite the ever-present heated rivalry between Egyptian and Tunisian teams.
“Things will be very calm,” Hassan, who was an influential member of the Zamalek side who won their last Champions League title in 2002, said in the club’s press release.
“The revolutions in both countries will pave the way for a trouble-free match,” the fiery-tempered coach added.
A match of such high calibre usually takes place in the latter stages of the Champions League but the preliminary round draw pitted Zamalek against Club Africain in an intriguing clash.
Hassan is aware that his side will face a stiff challenge to book a last-16 berth and continue their race to equal Ahly’s record of six Champions League triumphs.
“Club Africain are better prepared for this match because they have many players who played with the Tunisian national team in the African Nations Championship (CHAN),” he said.
“Zamalek suffered a lot after football activities in Egypt were halted. We face a difficult task against Club Africain.”
The White Knights have played one competitive game since January’s uprising, crushing Kenya’s Ulinzi Stars 5-0 on aggregate in the Champions League first round.
They will miss Amr Zaki against Club Africain after the robust striker aggravated a knee injury that sidelined him for around three months. Qatari winger Hussein Yasser is also absent due to automatic suspension.
The hosts rely on new striker, Ezechiel Ndouaselto score what could be a decisive goal. The Chad frontman opened his Club Africain account in their 4-0 thumping of Rwanda’s APR in the Champions League preliminary round.
“We had lots of problems in the past due to the lack of a powerful striker. In Ndouasel, we have a proven goal-scorer,” Club Africain coach Kais Yacoubi said.
“I think a draw in the first leg will be a satisfying result for us.”