Africa’s most successful club, Al Ahly, face the ignominy of early elimination from the CAF Champions League for a second successive year, if they fail to come through the last of the knockout rounds this weekend.
Egypt’s ‘Red Devils’ must overcome a two-goal deficit against Al Ittihad from neighbouring Libya to make sure they reach the group phase after sensationally missing out last year. Also on the brink of elimination are the Sudanese duo of Al Hilal and Al Merreikh, who made the last eight in 2009, and South Africa’s champions SuperSport United, from whom much had been expected in this edition.
Al Ahly are sweating on the fitness of several key players as they seek on Sunday to turn around their precarious position but have already confirmed Egypt international Ahmed Fathi is out of the game after failing to recover in time from a groin injury. Coach Hossam Al Badri will be hoping lead striker Emad Moteab and winger Mohamed Barakat, also seasoned internationals, will boost Ahly’s chances of a difficult comeback against the Libyans, who they beat in the semi-finals of the Champions League three years ago.
My focus these days is on the mind of the players and to try and get them to understand that 2-0 means nothing in these competitions.
Ahly do have the boost of having clinched the Egyptian premier league title last week but will finds their Libyan opponents also hoping to feed off dominant domestic success. Al Ittihad are within touching distance of retaining their own league title for a sixth successive time, but they did lose their first game of the Libyan season in the wake of their 2-0 first leg win over Al Ahly, beaten 3-1 by Al Nasser at the Hugo Chavez Stadium in Benghazi last week.
If Al Ahly do not make it to the lucrative league phase, Egypt are likely to still have representatives after Ismaili beat Al Hilal 1-0 away in the first leg of their third round tie a fortnight ago. They are at home in Ismailia on Sunday seeking to win again to progress to the group phase for the first time in seven years. Al Hilal’s Brazilian-born coach Paulo Camps declared the Egyptians had been lucky to snatch an away win in the first leg through captain Mohammed Hommos and that the Sudanese could still bounce back.
Al Hilal’s neighbours Al Merreikh are in a much tougher position, trailing by three goals against Tunisia’s Esperance, who won their own league title towards the end of last month. The return leg is in the Sudanese capital on Saturday where the absence of injured Oussama Darragi means Esperance will likely start upfront with Nigerian international Michael Eneramo and Cameroon import Roger Toindouba.
Away test for SuperSport
Heartland FC of Nigeria host SuperSport United in Owerri on Saturday after forcing a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Johannesburg two weeks ago, and last year’s runners-up are poised to return to the group competition.
Algeria could have two representatives in the league phase if Entente Setif and JS Kabylie can hold onto precarious leads when they travel to Zambia and Angola respectively. Setif lead 1-0 against Zanaco but play in Lusaka on Saturday without key playmaker Lamouri Djediat, who has been dropped after a bust-up with coach Noureddine Zekri. JS Kabylie have a two-goal lead but must make the long journey to Luanda for Sunday’s return leg against Petro Atletico, travelling via Germany to the Angolan capital.
“My focus these days is on the mind of the players and to try and get them to understand that 2-0 means nothing in these competitions,” said JSK’s Swiss coach Alain Geigner. “There are a total of uncertainties that await us there. But above all we must score a goal that would destabilise our opponent. We have to be physically and mentally strong.”
Holders TP Mazembe Englebert are poised to progress easily, already leading 1-0 from the first leg of their tie against Djoliba. The second leg is being played in the capital Kinshasa instead of Mazembe’s base in Lubumbashi because of stadium renovations.
Dynamos of Zimbabwe will also likely be in the last eight, leading 4-1 from the first leg of their tie against Gaborone United from neighbouring Botswana.
In Gaborone: Gaborone United (Botswana) v Dynamos (Zimbabwe) (1-4)
In Khartoum: Al Merreikh (Sudan) v Esperance (Tunisia) (0-3)
In Lusaka: Zanaco (Zambia) v Entente Setif (Algeria) (0-1)
In Owerri: Heartland FC (Nigeria) v SuperSport United (South Africa) (1-1)
In Ismailia: Ismaili (Egypt) v Al Hilal (Sudan) (1-0)
In Kinshasa: TP Mazembe Englebert (DR Congo) v Djoliba (Mali) (1-0)
In Luanda: Petro Atletico (Angola) v JS Kabylie (Algeria) (0-2)
In Cairo: Al Ahli (Egypt) v Al Ittihad (Libya) (0-2)