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Ahly coach Mohamed Youssef: CAF Champions League was our lifeline
In an interview with FIFA.com, Al-Ahly coach Mohamed Youssef opened up about coaching the African champions during such a tough period in Egypt.
Mohamed Youssef took over after Hossam El-Badry, who was able to lead Al-Ahly to its 7th Champions League title, so the pressure was huge on the former.
Despite it being his first coaching experience, Mohamed Youssef is proving to be a successful coach and in spite of the lack of football in Egypt, Al-Ahly is one match away from the final of the 2013 CAF Champions League.
Al-Ahly has only been playing its Champions League matches over the last three months now as the Egyptian Premier League has been cancelled since July 11th due to political instability. When asked about how Al-Ahly managed to achieve a great score of 11 points, finishing top of its Group, Youssef replied: “Excuses are not permitted at our club. All the players know what it means to represent Ahly, and they are aware of their responsibilities. We always try to turn negatives into positives.”
When questioned about the aftermath of cancelling the Egyptian Premier League, Youssef said: “The domestic football stoppage was one of several problems facing us, but we were motivated to overcome that. We were determined to keep our Champions League route open because it was the only competition to play for.”
“Nothing is certain with regards to domestic football. We don’t know whether the Egyptian Cup will go ahead and even when you arrange a friendly game you are not sure whether it will be played. That means you only have the Champions League to play for. It has been like a lifeline for us. [Keeping that going] was our motive.”
Aside from their Champions League matches, Al-Ahly has been playing numerous friendlies as Youssef believes it is the only way to keep the players physically fit to compete, even though it is not the best way: “We tried to make the most of some friendly matches to keep our rhythm, but they still can never resemble competitive matches in which you are under stress to deliver.”
The venue and the absence of key players due to injuries or transfers were yet other obstacles that faced Al-Ahly, not to mention that the Cairo giants were not accustomed to playing matches without its ever-supporting fans.
“We were not accustomed to that venue or the different weather in Gouna, but we still managed to get used to it. Some important players have also left us: Hossam Ghaly joined Lierse, Mohamed Barakat retired, Emad Meteb was injured and Mohamed ‘Gedo’ moved to Hull City,” Youssef stated. “But we have a saying: ‘those who arrived represent Ahly’. This means that even when a player or two are absent, and we are enduring a tough period, anyone donning the Ahly kit is playing for the club, so he should be up to that task.”
Al-Ahly and Espérence de Tunis are the favourited teams to play in the the CAF Champions League final.
Ahly has faced the Tunisian giants a total of 6 times in the past 3 years; last year’s CAF Champions Final was the most recent when the African champions managed to win 2-1 in Tunisia after a 1-1 draw in Egypt to claim the title.
Youssef however, thinks that these talks are premature and respects the Cameroonian team: “With all due respect to those who are talking about a possible game against Esperance, this is very premature, and it’s wrong to talk about that when you have a game against a tough opponent like Coton Sport.”
“Al-Ahly Always plays for top spots,” was his reply when asked about the FIFA Club World Cup, given that Al-Ahly has participated in 4 out of 9 tournaments.
He continued: “We have some young players who are eager to play in the Club World Cup for the first time, and those who already participated in the tournament want to play again,” he said.
“The experienced players who were present in the past four participations are aware it might be their last chance to feature in the tournament during the upcoming edition in Morocco. Ahly always play for top spots.”
Al-Ahly play the 2nd leg of the semi-final against Coton Sport on Sunday 20 October in Gouna.