Egyptian derby sets the scene
(FIFA.com) Thursday 17 July 2008
One of the world's fiercest footballing rivalries provides the perfect curtain-raiser to the group phase of this year's CAF Champions League as Egyptian giants Al Ahly and Zamalek go head-to-head in Cairo.
Sunday's derby match is the latest chapter in a heated struggle stretching back more than 50 years and which traditionally keeps the Arabic-speaking world spellbound. Both teams go into the competition with a fantastic pedigree; Al Ahly having two years ago matched Zamalek's record of five successes in Africa's top club competition.
However, there has been a lop-sided contrast of fortunes over the last years with Ahly dominating their city rivals and indeed, proving to be the form team in the CAF Champions League, even though they were thwarted by Etoile Sportive du Sahel last November in their bid to win the title for an unprecedented third time in a row.
Al Ahly and Zamalek begin the game with a clean slate, as the new Egypt Premier League is still several weeks away. Zamalek go into the game with a new manager, the German Rainer Hollmann, who has spent liberally in the transfer market in order to boost his team's chances of reaching the finals in Japan. His counterpart Manuel Jose, has also drafted in several talented youngsters to his squad, despite increasing speculation over his possible return to his native Portugal.
Big names may miss out
Yet these two Egyptian giants could be without their star players for the Group A clash. Ahly's Mohamed Aboutrika, who scored the winning goal for Egypt in the CAF Africa Cup of Nations final earlier this year, is facing a race against time to be fit after a recent operation, while international team-mate Amr Zaki has been dropped by Zamalek as speculation mounts over a possible transfer to Wigan Athletic.
The pairing of the two Cairo clubs has vastly overshadowed the other two teams in the group, who play their opening game in Harare, Zimbabwe on Sunday. Hosts Dynamos proved themselves to be giantkillers by eliminating holders Etoile Sahel, while ASEC Abidjan set a new record for participation in the group phase of the Champions League, as this is the ninth time in 12 years the Ivorians have qualified for the last eight.
ASEC's chances of emulating their lone win in the CAF Champions League ten years ago now rests on a new generation of highly rated young players, including Antoine Ngossan, Cyriac Gohi Bi and Tiezan Kone, while Enyimba, who were back to back winners in 2003 and 2004, return to the sharp end of the competition as Group B favourites. However, the Nigerians potential faces an immediate examination in Khartoum on Friday against last year's semi-finalists Al Hilal, who have kept the bulk of the squad, plus the Brazilian coach Ricardo Ferreira, from last year's unexpected run of success.
Cameroon's Coton Sport make their CAF Champions League debut on Saturday just days after parting ways with French coach Denis Lavagne, the architect of their last two successive domestic championship wins. His departure has cast a shadow over their preparations for the match on Saturday in Garoua against TP Mazembe Englebert of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
CAF Champions League
Coton Sport- TP Mazembe Englebert
Matches to be played over the weekend of 18-20 July 2008.