PREVIEW: Al Ahly eye victory in Group A opener against ZESCO
Al Ahly will kickstart their CAF Champions League campaign this season with an arduous Ramadan trip to Zambian commercial capital Ndola to face ZESCO United.
Game: ZESCO United (Zambia) vs. Al Ahly
Competition: CAF Champions League, Group A
Ground: Levy Mwanawasa Stadium, Ndola
Kick-off time: 15:30 CLT
The Red Devils – who’ve won the competition a record eight times – will play their first group stage encounter since the 2013 edition, which happens to be their last CAF Champions League title to this date, having faced ignominious Round of 16 knockouts in both 2014 and 2015.
Despite it being a first group stage game in two years, the Reds definitely don’t lack in continental experience; after all, out of the 19 players named in the matchday squad for the return leg against Orlando Pirates in the 2013 final, a staggering 10 remain.
However, Al Ahly’s squad is far from full. Martin Jol’s side will miss the services of star strikers Malick Evouna and Amr Gamal, as well as midfield metronome Abdullah El-Said due to respective injuries. Not only that, but the Reds enter the game having endured their fourth defeat of the season at the hands of Al-Masry on Monday, slicing their lead at the top of the table to only five points, in the process.
ZESCO United – who acquired entry to the competition as champions of the 2015 Zambian Super League – ousted Stade Malien in the Round of 16 by an aggregate score of 5-2. The Zambians have only made the group stage once before, finishing third in a group which consisted of Sudan’s Al-Hilal, and Nigerian side Kano Pillars.
However, despite making their last group stage appearance seven years ago, coach George Lwandamina was not fazed by the threat of Al Ahly, when asked about the encounter. However – similar to Martin Jol – Lwandamina has to deal with the absence of key players for the Group A opener, namely top goalscorer Jesse Were, and Idris Mbombo.
Ekramy; Fathi, Hegazy, Rami Rabia, Sabri Rahil; Hossam Ashour, Hossam Ghaly; Ramadan Sobhy, Saleh Gomaa, Walid Soliman; John Antwi.
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