Egyptian giants Al Ahly still believe they can add to their haul of six CAF Champions League triumphs when they meet Tunisia’s Esperance on Saturday despite a disappointing first-leg result.
A resolute Esperance side, who are eyeing a second consecutive continental triumph, scored a precious away goal to hold the Red Devils to a 1-1 draw in Alexandria that leaves them favourites to retain their title.
However, Ahly’s rock-solid veteran defender Wael Gomaa, 37, told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview that his side could still “pull off a miracle” and lift the trophy despite the problems plaguing their campaign, including the ongoing stoppage of Egyptian football.
Gomaa, who could set an African record of five Champions League triumphs for a single player, having taken part in Ahly’s 2001, 2005, 2006 and 2008 winning campaigns, joined the Cairo club from Ghazl El-Mahalla in 2001 and has been one of the team’s most consistent performers since.
FIFA.com: What are the mistakes Ahly committed in the first leg that contributed to the disappointing result and should they be avoided if the team are to win the trophy in Tunis?
Wael Gomaa: We can’t really say there were mistakes, nor can we single out any player for blame. We did our best and dominated the game. Looking at the statistics, we find that Esperance only managed to create two chances, scoring one goal. We were just unlucky with regards to the many chances we had, which we could not convert. We need a bit of luck in the second leg.
Ahly’s defence was criticised for letting in ten goals in nine matches since the group stage began, do you think the team’s rearguard has been shaky?
I don’t think we can say there is a serious defensive problem; it’s only natural that a team like Ahly commit mistakes when we pour forward to score. As far as I remember, Esperance also conceded around seven goals in the competition so far. There is no problem as long as you can create chances, and when you create chances up front it’s logical that there could be some mistakes at the back.
Will Esperance adopt a cautious strategy, as a goalless draw will be enough to give them the title, and could that affect Ahly’s prospects in the second leg?
I don’t think that they will be looking for a draw. They will fear replicating what happened in 2006 when we scored a late goal against Sfaxien in Tunis to win the trophy after the first leg also ended in a 1-1 draw in Egypt. Even without playmaker Youssef Msakni, Esperance remain dangerous with their collective play, just like us. But we are better in terms of attacking individuals, so if they attack with the intent of avoiding Sfaxien’s fate, we can expose their gaps and score.
Can the presence of Esperance fans, who are expected to surpass the limited number of fans who attended the first leg, affect Ahly’s display?
I think the fan pressure will be on Esperance if we manage to score first.
We are also eager to win the competition for the sake of the martyrs of the Port Said disaster. We are calling it the martyrs’ competition.
How do you rate Ahly’s chances of winning the competition?
Our task is not easy. It would be a miracle if we won this trophy because of the many problems we are encountering. There is no league, no matches, no fans - all of that surely takes a toll on the team. Naturally, the team should play regular matches in order to be fully ready, but this is not the case.
Does the chance of appearing at the FIFA Club World Cup for the first time since 2008 make Ahly players more eager to win the Champions League?
It gives us an extra motivation definitely, but we are also eager to win the competition for the sake of the martyrs of the Port Said disaster. We are calling it the martyrs’ competition.
Regarding the Egyptian national team, do you think the team can make it to the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ despite the problems you have mentioned?
Thankfully, we are not playing any competitive game until March 2013. We are in a very tough situation because of the football stoppage. If there is no league this season we will have no option but to hold successive training camps to prepare for the remaining qualifiers.
How do you rate the work coach Bob Bradley has done so far with the Egyptian national team?
He is a brave man. His determination to carry on despite all those problems shows that he is an adventurous man who is eager to succeed.