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Charting the course to a Cairo derby CAF Champions League final
A CAF Champions League final between clubs from the same country has only ever come close to fruition twice. In 2004 and 2014, Tunisian and Democratic Republic of Congo sides, respectively, were kept apart in the semi finals only for the favorites to lose. Maybe the honor is reserved for the Cairo Derby, Africa’s biggest match, to give us such a final.
Al Ahly and Zamalek were kept apart in the group stage draw. They qualified for the last eight in solid fashion and are rightfully favorites. Even so, the CAF Champions League is open again. They will have to maneuver two different groups that will nevertheless take them to the same regions of Africa. The Cairo duo has to travel to their North African neighborhood, West Africa, and the Southern part of the continent.
The form of these two teams is pretty much what we expect at this moment. Zamalek have gone through six coaches and are quitting the Egyptian Premier League. That aside, it is standard stuff. Al Ahly is on course for another league title and customarily knocked out a team from East Africa en route to the group stage. The Egyptian champions have Momen Zakaria, Abdallah El-Said and Malick Evouna on double digit goal figures in the league.
Zamalek will be in this tournament next year as second place finishers of the league, if they back out from their threat of quitting the league. Meanwhile, they hope Kahraba can star for them like he did in the CAF Confederation Cup last year. Like it is for every top African club side, there is little we can learn from Zamalek’s qualifying rounds matches. They can only hope their May winning run rubs off onto June.
The farthest these two Egyptian giants will travel is Southern Africa. Al Ahly will face ZESCO Utd, from Zambia, in group A. On the other hand, the White Knights play Mamelodi Sundowns. The Brazilians have stayed true to their nickname in clinching the South African league. The trio of Keagan Dolly, Khama Billiat, and Leonardo Castro has run riot in South Africa.
Sundowns has not earned so much of a reputation in the CAF Champions League, though. They have come this far because of Vita Club’s ousting from the tournament. Nevertheless, the PSL champions have won all of their home matches. Thus, the true big team of South African football will fancy 3 points at home against Zamalek. It is safe to say that the points will be split evenly. Zamalek themselves have a 4-0-2 record against South African opposition.
Ahly, who have dominated locally with their own trio, face ZESCO Utd again. In 2011, they narrowly beat the Zambians, thanks to Mohamed Barakat. Al Ahly is stronger this year. They have Rami Rabia and Ahmed Hegazy at centerback, instead of Ahmed El-Sayed and Mohamed Naguib. There is little doubt they can win both ties; worst being a tough opening match in Ndola.
Enyimba host Zamalek in group B’s first round of matches. Despite having not met Zamalek, they are no strangers to Egyptian sides. Enyimba has even played Smouha in a continental match. The Nigerians record in Egypt is poor, but they have kept a strong showing at home. Only Ahly have managed a victory in 5 visits by Egyptian teams. Zamalek should expect no win in Nigeria. Mfon Udoh, top scorer, echoes the forgotten Emmanuel Clottey.
There could be solace though. Enyimba have played CAF Champions League matches in Port Harcourt, away from their “spiritual home.” An artificial turf is being laid in Aba and delays mean Zamalek might cheat the record books on the second weekend of June, 2016.
As for Al Ahly, they have another opponent from whom their fans should expect six points. They play Ivorian side ASEC Mimosas. This club, that gave us Yaya Toure, will not expect much from its group outing, let alone this matchup.
You have it figured out. Whereas this will be Al Ahly’s stiffest opposition, for Zamalek it’s just another two tough group assignments. Wydad Casablanca will be quite the assignment for Al Ahly. I shouldn’t say this, but perhaps even more than Zamalek themselves.
In 2011, Ahly came up against Iajour. This year they face Reda Hajhouj. The winger has scored in all but one of his CAF Champions League matches in 2016. Your best bet to watching Al Ahly lose is catching their contest against Wydad Casablanca. John Toshack’s squad has an aura Michel Decastel failed to craft in 2011.
Zamalek face a second Algerian team in this year’s competition. The difference being that ES Setif has been the most consistent side in the last 3 years. Setif is now in a third straight group stage appearance. This means another match for Zamalek, in which a home win will be pivotal.
Resumption of league dominance has handed Martin Jol a stable environment. Thus, Al Ahly should advance from group A. Four wins is the minimum fans should expect from them. Zamalek are in a much more difficult group. The fate of everyone in group B will rest on home wins.