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CAF Champions League final preview: Mamelodi Sundowns host Zamalek

Zamalek

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Zamalek have it all to do as they aim to claim their first continental title in 14 years against South African side in the final first leg on Saturday.

Where: Johannesburg, South Africa

When: Saturday, October 15th, 2017

THE STORY: HOW ZAMALEK WON THEIR LAST CHAMPIONS LEAGUE TROPHY 14 YEARS AGO

Given the amount of competitions and matches to played in the modern day, owners and managers usually make sure their squads are large and well-equipped while footballers also learn how to deal with overpacked schedules.

However, Zamalek have been succeeding under tough circumstances. Momen Soliman, the once “interim” coach seems to be making a strong claim for the job permanently having chosen to work with a much smaller squad of players. This decision has paid off with an Egypt Cup win, a strong start to the domestic league and good form thus far in the Champions League.

Soliman, a tactically adept manager, has identified the type of players that work within his coaching framework and got the best out of them in a short period of time when results have really mattered.

It remains to be seen if that success will continue in what is the first of two of the most important matches in the club’s recent history.

Many key Zamalek players have been faced with a truly exhausting schedule, travelling and playing with the Egypt national team camp as they played their first World Cup qualifying match in Congo on Saturday.

That means that Soliman will not only start with a small squad of players, but will also try to get the best out of key players such as Bassem Morsy, Tarek Hamed and Ali Gabr who have just played a highly demanding fixture.

Sundowns

Momen Soliman

From a tactical point of view, Momen Soliman seems to have a good understanding of his team. Zamalek have been a free-scoring side of late and so will have to concentrate strongly on keeping a clean sheet in South Africa to give themselves the best chance of winning on aggregate in the final match in Egypt one week later. It’s being reported that 60,000 fans will be allowed to attend the penultimate match at the Borg El Arab Stadium.

READ: Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane: I will not change the system against Zamalek

In their two matches against Sundowns in the group stages of the competitions in July, Zamalek seemed to move the ball slower than they do now and struggled to get the ball into dangerous areas. The Egyptians lost the two matches by a one-goal margin within a span of 10 days. Soliman has played down the significance of those fixtures though.

What doesn’t seem that encouraging is that even after Zamalek’s second leg match with Wydad Casablanca in the semi-final where the Egyptians nearly gave away a 4-0 aggregate lead, Soliman admitted that he’s struggling to find solutions to some problems in the team.

READ: Ahmed Tawfik Confident ahead of Sundowns clash

Whether the manager is trying to take pressure off the club or is genuinely concerned with some aspects of his team’s play, Zamalek have a team of players with real quality and difference-makers and fans will be hopeful that Zamalek will be able to compete strongly for the title.

Michael Saad is an Egyptian-Canadian living in Toronto. A lifelong supporter of Zamalek through family inheritance, he covers the White Knights on KingFut and monitors the progression of the Egyptian national team carefully. Outside of Egyptian football, he is a passionate Arsenal and Toronto FC fan.

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