Preview: A look back at 2013 and Al Ahly’s road to the ninth
The beginning of Al Ahly’s journey to the ninth began four years ago, when they last won the competition in 2013.
Al Ahly reached the final in 2013 after meeting their opponents, Orlando Pirates, in the group stages. The first leg of the final was played in Johannesburg and ended in a 1-1 draw. It was in this game that Al Ahly legend Mohamed Abou-Treika scored one of his most famous free-kick goals for the Red Devils and thanked the away fans prior to his imminent retirement. The second leg in Cairo ended with a 2-0 win for Ahly in part due to Treika’s last goal for Al Ahly and a goal from Abdel-Zaher.
Four years on from that historic night, Al Ahly find themselves embarking on a final without retired stars including Wael Gomaa and Abou-Treika. However, Sherif Ekramy, Ahmed Fathi, Mohamed Naguib, Hossam Ashour, Abdallah El-Said, and Walid Soliman remain from the starting lineup that won the title in 2013. While Rami Rabia, Saad Samir, Emad Meteb, and Ahmed Adel were among Mohamed Youssef’s available substitutes on those nights.
Domestically, 2016/2017 was arguably one of Al Ahly’s best seasons to date winning the league undefeated, breaking the record for most clean sheets in a season, and winning the Egypt Cup for the first time since 2007.
The road to the ninth
Continentally, they began their road to their ninth title with a first round matchup with South African side Bidvest Wits, where Amr Gamal would be later loaned to, whom they beat 1-0 on aggregate thanks to now West Bromwich Albion center back Ahmed Hegazi.
Al Ahly were drawn into Group D with Moroccan side Wydad Casablanca, Cameroonian side Coton Sport, and Zambian Zanaco. Their first group stage match saw Al Ahly play to a 0-0 draw with Zanaco at Borg El-Arab. Momen Zakaria and Junior Ajayi led Ahly to a 2-0 road win against Coton Sport in their second group match. The duo again scored as Al Ahly beat Saturday’s opponent Wydad Casablanca 2-0 in Alexandria. However, it was the fourth match that threw a wrench in Ahly’s unbeaten streak. In Morocco, Ahly suffered a 2-0 loss to Wydad at the hands of Ondami and El Karti. Another 0-0 draw with Zanaco in the penultimate group stage match saw the match against Coton Sport become a must win. The Red Devils would go on to win 3-1 after conceding the first goal in the 12th minute.
In Alexandria, Al Ahly came back from behind to earn draw 2-2 with Esperance in the first leg after two defensive errors. In the second leg, Esperance went ahead in the 40th minute through Khenissi’s penalty. Two goals from Maloul and Ajayi gave Al Ahly the 4-3 aggregate win and a spot in the semifinals.
In the semifinals, Al Ahly met another Tunisian side in Etoile du Sahel. In the first leg in Sousse, Etoile du Sahel opened the scoring in the 16th minute through Brigui. Substitute Saleh Gomaa equalized for Al Ahly in the 66th minute, but Etoile regained the lead seven minutes later through Ben Amor. The return leg in Alexandria saw Al Ahly thoroughly thrash Etoile 6-2 through a Maloul goal in the 2nd minute, a hat-trick from Walid Azaro in the 23rd, 39th and 48th minutes, a comical own goal by Nagguez in the 58th minute and a rocket of a goal from Rami Rabia in the 63rd minutes.
On Saturday the Red Devils will face their group stage opponents Wydad Casablanca for the third time this season, as happened in 2013. In the 2016 edition of the competition, Al Ahly also faced Wydad in the group stages winning the game in Morocco 1-0 and drawing the game in Egypt 0-0. In the semifinals, Wydad faced Zamalek, losing 4-0 in Egypt but winning 5-2 at home, a scoreline not enough to go through to the final.
Al Ahly will hope to have the added boost of the returning Abdallah El-Said and Saleh Gomaa on Saturday, while Hossam Ashour may be ready by the second leg in Morocco.
Will history be on Al Ahly’s side, or will Wydad win their first Champions League title since 1992? Comment below!
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