There is just one game separating Cairo giants Al Ahly from picking up an unprecedented eighth title in the CAF Champions League. Standing in their way is South Africa's sole winner of the competition, Orlando Pirates, who lifted the trophy in 1995. Along with continental bragging rights, the winner will earn the right to represent the continent at the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco in December.
Sunday's match in Cairo will be the fourth time that the two teams have met in the Champions League this season. The two games in Johannesburg ended draws, with the Red Devils scoring an important away goal in the 1-1 match in the first leg of the final. The game in Egypt - in the group stage of the competition - was a very different affair, with Pirates inflicting a rare home defeat on the defending champions. Even more shocking was the lopsided 3-0 score, although the match was played outside of Cairo and it did come at the end of Ramadan fasting for the Egyptians.
An intriguing aspect to the game is that Pirates' away form in the competition has been excellent when it matters – along with the previous win over Ahly, they also managed a decisive 1-1 draw in Tunisia against giants Esperance in the semi-final – but they will come up against an Al Ahly side that boasts a home record in the Champions League that is second to none. Ahly coach Mohamed Youssef, who won the African Cup Winners' Cup with Al Ahly as a player in 1993, rested four players with injury worries during midweek training in Cairo, with Walid Soliman, Ahmed Fathi, Emad Meteab as well as first leg goalscorer Mohamed Aboutrika resting, but officials are confident that the players will be available for the contest.
Youssef's counterpart Roger De Sa will be without defender Happy Jele and midfielder Andile Jali, who are both suspended after picking up second bookings of the competition in the first leg. Stand-in captain Jele's absence is a blow to Pirates' title ambitions as De Sa is already without international defender Siyabonga Sangweni, who is facing a lengthy lay-off after picking up a serious injury several weeks ago. However, the coach is confident that his team can overcome the absences. "In the end it will be 11 Pirates players versus 11 Al Ahly players. Obviously, I would have preferred to have Jali and Jele for this away trip, but if you look at our path to the final, we have played matches minus a couple of our key players and we were still able to get results."
Pacy Pirates striker Lennox Bacela, who put the Al Ahly defence under some pressure in the first leg, also believes that the South Africans will have their chances in Cairo. "They are a not a side that defends throughout the 90 minutes. We have to take the game to them,” he said. “They have the experience, but I think we have the will, pace and skills to unlock any defence and cause serious problems."
Player to watch
De Sa will have to re-organise his defence for the game in Cairo and this could herald a return to action for captain Lucky Lekgwathi. The 37-year-old has not played for the Buccaneers since the goalless draw against the Red Devils in the last group phase match. The reasons for his absence have never quite been explained, but the former Bafana Bafana player could be just what the doctor ordered as he brings vast experience to the squad, and that is something that de Sa will be looking for as he hopes to become the second South African coach to win the showpiece of African club football.
4 – The number of goals conceded by Ahly in eight home leg matches in Cairo in CAF Champions League finals. In six of the contests they held their opponents scoreless, while three of the four goals were scored in the 2007 final by Etoile Sahel.
What they said
"Orlando Pirates play much better when they are out of their own ground, so it means we must take the game more seriously at home. It will be difficult but our experience will help up secure the title in Cairo," Al Ahly captain Wael Gomaa.
Have your say
Can Pirates do what they did in the 1995 final: Win away from home to take the trophy?