Al Ahly on brink of history
© AFP

Al Ahly are so close they can almost reach out and touch history ahead of Friday's second leg of the CAF Champions League final. The Cairo giants, already proclaimed Africa's greatest team of the last century, are breaking fresh ground this new millennium with their performance in the continent's top club competition.

At the weekend they will have the opportunity to win the African Champions League for a record sixth time but, more importantly for coach Manuel Jose and his players, to take the title for the third successive year (which would be another unprecedented feat).

Al Ahly will start as the favourites after they held Etoile Sahel of Tunisia to a goalless draw in the first leg of the final in Sousse late last month. It was the ease of their performance that again underlined their quality, even if they have not been as emphatic in the Champions League this campaign as they were in the two previous.

The draw in Sousse also mirrored the previous meeting between the two clubs in the Champions League final two years ago, when Al Ahly also traveled away for the first leg and drew the game before romping home to a 3-0 triumph in the return fixture.

Aboutrika back
Al Ahly's talismanic midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika, who scored the dramatic winner in last year's final, has been give the all-clear to play after suffering a knock on his knee in the Egyptian Premier League match against Ismaili last Thursday. He rejoined training on Tuesday after several days of rest and treatment. With midfield partner Mohamed Barakat missing the match through suspension, brought about by an accumulation of yellow cards, Aboutrika is going to be even more key to Al Ahli's hopes.

Despite his numerous attacking options, Manuel Jose believes it is the effectiveness of his rearguard that has been the foundation for their dominance in African and domestic competition over the last four years.

Etoile Sahel are given little chance by anyone except their most fervent fans, although their French coach Bertrand Marchand remains confident. "I believe my players are capable of pulling off a result over there," he said.

Attacking fullback Mehdi Meriah is out of the match after the red card he received in the first leg for a professional foul on Barakat ten minutes from time, while captain Seif Ghezal also misses the contest after picking up a yellow in the first leg.

History lessons
It is the fourth successive year that a Tunisian club is competing in the Champions League final, but the last three have all ended in disappointment. In 2004, Etoile Sahel lost to Enyimba of Nigeria on penalties and then to Al Ahly the following year. In 2006, Al Ahly won narrowly against CS Sfaxien 2-1 on aggregate with Aboutrika's dramatic late winner.

Friday's game in the Egyptian capital has been switched back to the Cairo International stadium, after a fixture clash previously condemned the continent's club competition showpiece to the smaller Military stadium, not far from the city's airport.

The Cairo International stadium is being used for the upcoming Pan Arab Games but now that Al Ahly sit on the cusp of making history, those plans have been delayed to allow a crowd of at least some 75,000 to watch the match at the country's main footballing arena.