The legendary Al Ahly of Egypt host Coton Sport of Cameroon in the first leg of the CAF Champions League final on Sunday. On paper it would appear to be a mismatch, but there are high expectations the deciding fixtures of this year's competition will be closely fought.
Coton Sport did not even exist when Al Ahly were well into their all-conquering reign of African football, amassing a collection of trophies and titles second to none. The Egyptians are chasing a record-breaking sixth Champions League success this weekend, and play in their fourth successive final.
Coton Sport reached the league phase for the first time this year and have gone on, against all expectation, to advance to their first final. The club was only founded in 1986, and ascended into the top flight of Cameroonian football in 1993. By that time Al Ahly had already won one continental championship and three straight African Cup Winners' Cups.
Rarely has there been such a gulf in experience between two teams contesting the final of the continent's showpiece club competition, but it is not an unrealistic mismatch. Indeed Al Ahly's hopes of establishing new landmarks for the African game will be under severe threat from a Cameroonian side who have grown in confidence and ability as the competition has unfolded over the year.
Al Ahly host Sunday's first leg in Cairo seeking a decisive advantage to take to Garoua, in the arid north of Cameroon, where the second leg is to be staged on 16 November. But coach Manuel Jose says it is ironic that his team fare better away from home, freed from the burden of expectation imposed by their passionate fans in the Egyptian capital.
The Portuguese, who has been at the Al Ahly helm for their last three Champions League triumphs, said on the eve of the game: "Away from home, when we are not under pressure, we perform well. But at home there is a lot of pressure from the supporters."
Al Ahly, however, know it is vital to win the first leg and take an advantage to Garoua, where they have never played before and will find conditions to be tough. "," continued their coach. The Egyptians are still sweating over the availability of captain Ahmed Hassan and Angolan winger Gilberto, who sat out their last league game to avoid aggravating a groin problem.
Coton Sport arrived in Cairo on Thursday to begin their preparations, and are training in the coastal city of Ismailia. They were give an official send off in Garoua with promises of handsome cash bonuses if they deliver the CAF Champions League title to Cameroon. "This has helped to motivate the players," said Coton Sport's Ivorian coach Alain Ouombleon Guedou, whose players were also given a pep talk by the legendary Roger Milla.
Coton Sport will have Oumarou Sanda back from injury after he missed their success in last weekend's Cameroonian Cup final, and Stephane Kingue Mponfo also returns after completing a two-match suspension that ruled him out of the semi-final defeat of Zimbabwe's Dynamos.