Previously a dominant force in African football, Zamalek now face the ignominy of failing to reach the final four of this year's CAF Champions League. The expected renaissance of the Egyptian giants has yet to happen, leaving their experienced German coach Reiner Hollmann at a crossroads this weekend.
The Cairo outfit face the stark possibility of early elimination from the CAF Champions League and, to make it even more unpalatable, their fate could be sealed by arch-rivals Al Ahly. With just four points from four matches in Group A, Zamalek know that their hopes rest on avoiding defeat when they meet their cross-city adversaries for the third time in two months. Over the last three years, Ahly have matched Zamalek's record of five wins in Africa's top club competition and are heavily tipped to move out into their own this year.
With just one win over Ahly in their last 15 meetings, the traditional rivalry has titled in favour of the Reds, leaving Zamalek devoid of confidence and desperately seeking salvation. That was supposed to come in the form of Hollmann, an experienced ex-Bundesliga coach with Kaiserslautern who more than a decade ago helped set the Ahly juggernaught on to a winning roll with three Egyptian league titles in as many seasons.
Zamalek, however, are proving a stubborn assignment, and Hollman is battling to survive in the cauldron of the CAF Champions League while also trading blows in the opening exchanges of the new Egypt Premier League season. "Zamalek were a very good team but there has been some trouble in the club," the German explained. "They have lost a good four years and are now looking to move on to a new positive way. ."
Hollmann, though, is well aware he is running out of time. "The pressure to win is enormous and the patience is not there," he conceded. "It is also a question of getting my players to believe they can beat Al Ahly." The two old rivals meet in Cairo on Sunday, 24 hours after the other scheduled Group A game this weekend which pits ASEC Abidjan at home to Dynamos of Zimbabwe.
Côte d'Ivoire's ASEC will qualify along with Al Ahly if both teams win, while Zamalek and Dynamos must pick up points if they are to keep their hopes alive. In Group B, it is nowhere as clear cut. There are just three points separating the four sides and the quest for semi-final places could remain just as tight after Sunday's penultimate round of matches.
Cameroon's Coton Sport, with seven points, travel to Lubumbashi to meet bottom placed TP Mazembe Englebert of Congo DR, who have four points. Mazembe won their first game of the group a fortnight ago by beating favourites Enyimba 3-0. The Nigerians return home on Sunday to host Al Hilal of Sudan in Aba. Enyimba lie second in Group B with six points, one more than Al Hilal. The final round of CAF Champions League fixtures will be played next weekend on 20 and 21 September. The top two teams in the two groups advance to the two-legged semifinals.