Al Ahly will take a different approach into their third FIFA Club World Cup, and confidence is high that it will pay dividends. In a press conference during a FIFA media day in Cairo, before the African Club of the Century departed for Japan, the players promised their passionate fans they would make it to the final, and do their utmost to seize the prestigious trophy.
"These are the glory years of Al Ahly, whose name is now carved within the world's best teams," said chairman Hassan Hamdi, whose club recently won a record sixth CAF Champions League crown. "The staff have done a brilliant job. We are now eager for more. The club officials and fans are confident the team can show more progress this time."
Coach Manuel Jose revealed the team have high ambitions. "This year there is huge responsibility because everyone expects us to go further than the third place we achieved in 2006, which was also an improvement from the previous year in 2005, when we lost our two games and came last. We dream of winning the cup, and we are working on making the dream a reality."
"The players shouldn't be under pressure. They should just concentrate on the ball and on achieving their goal. It is not going to be easy and we will have to fight. We will display our best because we want to show the world that Al Ahly is a world-class team, a team capable of competing against the world's elite clubs and for the title as well."
Everyone expects us to go further than the third place we achieved in 2006. We dream of winning the cup, and we are working on making the dream a reality.
Ahly captain Shady Mohamed admitted the players are determined to make an impression. "This team have achieved many unprecedented achievements, like winning the African Champions League six times and qualifying for Japan three times," he explained.
"So we need to prove to the world that we deserve to be among the elite, and that we are the best representatives for African football. We want to reach the final and hope we can return home with the title. We need to focus more on our first game. Winning our opener will give us more confidence to progress in the competition until we win it."
The hopes of the Cairo giants, at least according to many, rest at the mercurial feet of Mohamed Aboutrika, who thrilled audiences at the 2006 edition of the FIFA Club World Cup. However, the 30-year-old insisted his side's chances hinge of the players' collective performances. "Football is a team sport, no-one can play alone," he said.
"I'm not the star of the team - the team is the star, that's what Mr. Jose tells us. I don't care about individual achievements because only team achievements remain in the memory of the fans, and I'm part of the team."
Egypt captain Ahmed Hassan returned from a ten-year stay in Europe to join Ahly earlier this year, and he is revelling in his decision. "Since last June, I've claimed the African Champions League and will take part in Japan 2008. I hope we can fulfil our dream of winning the Club World Cup and making everyone back home happy," he said.
Regardless of whether they delight their own fans in Cario, the presence of Al Ahly is sure to please football followers in the competition's host nation. Japanese ambassador Kaoru Ishikawa received firm applause when he congratulated the Egyptians for qualifying for the tournament again. He then switched to English and wished them the best of luck.
"Japan is ready to receive you and all the other teams as well. The Japanese love this championship and wait for it every year. I have to warn you that at this time of the year Japan is very cold, but the hearts of the Japanese will make you feel warm," he concluded.