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Preview: Club icons return in CAF Champions League ‘Cairo’ derby
Ahly and Zamalek, Egypt and Africa’s most successful clubs, will clash later today in the first round of Group A in the African Champions League.
The Cairo derby, contrary to the name, will not be held in Cairo today, but rather in El-Gouna – a small Red Sea resort north of Hurghada. The move of venue, and city, is due to security concerns in the Egyptian capital, which is still facing the political turmoil that followed since the army toppled president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July.
The small 12,000-seater Gouna Stadium does not contain any floodlights, forcing the game to be played during daylight with kick-off at 4.30pm, which is an issue considering the majority of the players, if not all, will be fasting.
Al-Ahly captain Wael Gomaa was clearly displeased with the timing of the match, telling Cafonline.com: “We’re fasting; this is completely unacceptable to play such an important game while fasting. But what can we do? We’ll do our best and we won’t break our fasting. I hope this won’t affect us negatively.”
“Playing while fasting is usually difficult, especially when the players have decided against prematurely breaking the fast for the sake of the match. No player in the team wishes to play at this time.
He added, “It will not be what the fans expect in a usual Ahly – Zamalek derby games. The climate, venue and fasting will all affect both teams. We will do our best, and I hope that this match meets the tournament value.”
The game was postponed by 72 hours (ironically) as CAF and the Egyptian FA gave themselves time to organize the event with adequate security. The game will be played behind closed doors as both clubs are both under a crowd ban.
Both Ahly and Zamalek Ultras have vowed to still attend the match despite Zamalek’s claims that they’ve received a strong statement from CAF, warning both clubs that they could be disqualified from the Champions League if their fans are in attendance.
Both clubs should have their spirits boosted with the return of club icons and some key players, although others have recently left.
Ahly will pleased with the return of star talisman Mohamed Abou-Treika, whose loan spell with Bani Yas in UAE ended earlier in the summer. They will also be delighted with arrival of Ahmed Fathi from Hull City, who remains anxious to move abroad.
However, fellow Hull City loanee Mohamed Nagy ‘Gedo’ is still recovering from a foot injury, which required surgery, while Egypt international Emad Meteb wont be available for the Red Devils, as he too is injured.
Ahly will also be without veteran Mohamed Barakat, who recently retired, and former club captain Hossam Ghaly, who allowed his contract to expire this summer to sign for Belgian side Lierse.
Zamalek will be without some key players: Ibrahim Salah, Alexis Mendomo, Abdoulaye Cisse and Sabri Rahil, as they all have departed from the club, with the latter joining Al-Ahly, following unpaid wages and expired contracts.
They will, however, be thrilled with the return of club icon Shikabala from Emirati outfit Al-Wasl, while Egyptian legend Ahmed Hassan signed a new contract with the club this week.
– Zamalek are yet to beat Ahly in a Africa. Ahly and Zamalek have previously met six times in African Champions League, Ahly winning four and the remaining two ending as draws.
– The last three times the Cairo giants have met in Africa, Ahly went on to win the Champions League title. In 2005 Ahly defeated Zamalek in the semi-final, in 2008 they won in the Group stages and in 2012 they drew 1-1.
– Abou-Treika is active top scorer in the Cairo derby history with 11 goals, only two behind all-time leading marksman Mahmoud Mokhtar ‘Al-Tetsh’.
Let us know your predictions for today’s match by leaving us a comment below.
Follow @EgyptianPlayers – Ahmad Yousef