Aboutrika the key man again

Mohamed Aboutrika will get yet another forum to prove his status as one of the best players in African football when his Egyptian club Al Ahly seek to reach the CAF Champions League final on Saturday.

Aboutrika's influential role for both club and country was handed a massive mark of recognition in midweek, as he was nominated as one of five finalists for this year's CAF African Footballer of the Year award.

The classy midfielder, who turns 30 in early November, has been the author of influential goals for both Al Ahly and Egypt's national team in recent years, and will be key again on Saturday when the Cairo giants host Enyimba of Nigeria in the second leg of their semi-final tie.

The two clubs have won four of the last five Champions League titles between them, but Al Ahly have a distinct advantage after forcing a goalless draw in the first leg in Aba earlier this month.

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Aboutrika was this week named alongside four players from the English Premier League for the top individual prize in African football. He goes up against compatriot Amr Zaki, former winner Didier Drogba and Emmanuel Adebayor and Michael Essien for the title of the continent's best player for 2008.

Aboutrika is also one of five finalists for the best African-based footballer, a new award instigated by the Confederation of African Football. It was his dramatic last-gasp goal that handed Al Ahly their last Champions League title in 2006, when he scored in Tunisia against hosts CS Sfaxien with virtually the last kick of the match.

It was Aboutrika, too, who snatched the only goal of this year's CAF Africa Cup of Nations final in Accra, when Egypt retained their title in a 1-0 win over Cameroon. On Sunday, he scored in the 4-0 win over Djibouti as Egypt made sure of top place in their FIFA World Cup™ qualifying group and the next morning was back on the training ground preparing with Al Ahly.

With Mohamed Barakat due back after a knee strain, Al Ahly will be at full strength for the game against Enyimba. Much of the build up to Saturday's game has been overshadowed by Al Ahly's bid to try and buy Stephen Worgu, the Enyimba striker whose 13 goals make him the runaway leader in the scoring chart in this year's Champions League.

The other semi-final is also set for Saturday, with Coton Sport of Cameroon hosting Dynamos of Zimbabwe in Garoua. Coton Sport won the first leg 1-0 away in Harare and are well on course for a first-ever final appearance.

Coton Sport insist they will keep up the concentration needed to consolidate their lead and become the first side from Cameroon to reach the final of the Champions League in 27 years. "We'll need to work as hard as we did in the first leg to ensure a place in the final," said Coton Sport defender Eric Marcellin Ngaha.