Ahly, Sydney prepare to fight until the end
Al Ahly and Sydney go into battle on Friday at Tokyo's National stadium determined to avoid a last-place finish in the competition. The Egyptian side will be eager to get back to winning ways after Asian champions Al Ittihad ended their 55-match unbeaten run in the quarter-finals. The Australians, meanwhile, will look to enjoy their second big day out in Japan, where thousands of local fans are expected to turn out to bid farewell to legend Kazu Miura.
Of the two, it is the Cairo side who still have something to prove going into the match for fifth place. The Oceania champions, barely a year old, put up a fighting performance beyond many people's expectations before losing 1-0 to Costa Rica's Deportivo Saprissa in the quarters on Monday. Africa's top club though failed to live up to their promise, unable to play the attractive football they have become so famous for back home.
Coach Manuel Jose will be hoping the Red Devil wings, the soul of his side, flap with more effect against the Australians. Mohamed Barakat, so often the hero, had a quietish night and will be keen to prove to a watching world that he deserves to be named among Africa's best players.
"Our right and left sides just didn't work," said the Portuguese about his side's inability to break down the Ittihad rearguard. "It is what we are known for but they just didn't work."
Now he his hoping Ahly will react and begin another run.
"One day we had to lose," he added. "It was the wrong moment but that's life. Now we have to win the next match. As far as I know, we haven't lost two matches together in the past two years so I hope we can win."
Sydney will be without left-back Alvin Ceccoli, sent off against Saprissa, but with the local support expected to be heavily in their favour they should not feel his loss too much.
It will be Kazu Miura's final match in the Sky Blue shirt and the 38-year-old will hope for a happy ending.
"It was good that Japanese fans came out to support us in Nagoya," said Kazu. "If they do it in Tokyo, it will really help us. I'd love to finish on a winning note."
Coach Pierre Littbarski will also be looking to leave a place he once called home with fond memories. The former Yokohama FC boss has been through an emotional year and soon the big date on the calendar will have passed and the German will be able to focus squarely on winning the inaugural A-League.
He will be desperate to take back to Australia some positive vibes for the end-of-season run in.
"We played well in our first match and the experience will prove very valuable for us," he said. "Now we have to take what we learned into the Ahly game and build upon it."
With Sydney competing in the Asian Champions League from next season, the play off for fifth place will be a good pointer to see how far they have come.