It was Omar Lotfi who has the idea of creating a club for the people. Indeed, Al Ahly, which celebrates its centenary next year, means 'National.' Created to help oppose colonisation, the Cairo-based club have since become one of the world's most popular clubs with an estimated 40 million fans across the globe.

There is a saying in Egypt: 'As long as Al Ahly are doing well, Egypt does well.' Therefore it was no surprise that that the Egyptian team that won the CAF Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year included no fewer than seven of the club's players.

Over the past 25 years Al Ahly  have witnessed seen some of Africa's finest play for their club: Mahmoud El Khatieb; Taher Abuzeid; Ahmed Shobeir; Hany Ramzy; Hossam Hassan and, last but not least, Mohamed Aboutrika, who is one of five nominees for the CAF Best African Player this year. 

In their 99-year journey, Al Ahly won 98 trophies, including 31 league titles and 34 Egyptian Cups. They have won the CAF Champions League on five occasions and the CAF Cup Winners' Cup four times. In the year 2000, they were named as the CAF Club of the Century.

Appearing for the second successive year in Japan does not only mean another accomplishment for the club, but it brings a reputation that they will work hard to defend.

"Going to Japan again proves that this club is brings pride to its country and continent," the club's president, Hassan Hamdy told "Our target was to spread our name worldwide and I think we have managed to do that." 

Tough road to victory 
Although Al Ahly was one of the favorites to defend their title and win the Champions League this year, the fans and the players knew that this was never an easy job. The squad faced numerous difficulties before putting their feet on the winners' podium in the Tunisian capital last month after beating CS Sfaxien 2-1 on aggregate.

They had to do without six 6 of their key players, Mohamed Barakat, Emad El Nahas, Ahmed El Sayed, Osama Hosni and Angolan international Gilberto who missed most of their successful African campaign through injury.  Then, on 31 August 2006, tragedy struck. During a training session, Mohamed Abdelwahab, himself an Egyptian internation,al collapsed and died in front of his team-mates.

"We faced some real harsh circumstances and some desperate moments which made this cup a very special triumph" said Mohamed Aboutrika, who scored the decisive victory goal over Sfaxien in injury time.

Their previous appearance in Tokyo was not much of a success for the African champions who lost to Al Ittihad by a single goal, before losing to 2-1 to Sydney FC to claim the competition's wooden spoon. Therefore, the Africans feel that have a double-edged mission this time around.

"We are looking forward to playing again in this competition, doing well in it and changing the poor image we created last year."

Coach Manuel Jose is urging the media and club officials not to put his players under pressure which he believes was the main reason behind their failure to impress last time.

"Last year, people expected a lot from us and they thought we were invincible," he said. "Everyone was expecting us to return with the cup! It was unbelievable. This time, I will only ask my players to play their normal game regardless of the results. I do not want them looking over their shoulders while they face their opponents."