Champions League: Ahly seek first win in new campaign
Champions League title-holders Al Ahly travel to Congo-Brazzaville hoping to beat AC Leopards for their first win of the campaign.
Ahly are bottom of Group A and as the struggling Egyptian stars arrived in central Africa they learnt that politics-induced violence at home had claimed at least 578 lives nationwide.
Most of the deaths during clashes between security forces and backers of ex-president Mohamed Morsi occurred in Cairo, where Ahly have millions of followers.
After drawing with Cairo rivals Zamalek, record seven-time African champions Ahly crumbled 3-0 to South African visitors Orlando Pirates, a record home loss in the competition.
Mohamed Youssef Al AHly coach
“It is crucial that we succeed in Congo”
Leopards have been heading in the opposite direction with an away draw against Pirates followed by a home victory over five-time title-holders Zamalek.
The Congolese, a second-tier club just four years ago, and Pirates have four points each and Zamalek and Ahly one each, making the matches this weekend vital for the Egyptians.
Were Ahly to lose in Dolisie and Zamalek to suffer a similar fate against Pirates in Soweto a few hours later, they would be six points adrift with three rounds remaining.
But coaches Mohamed Youssef of Ahly and Helmy Toulan of Zamalek are confident they can steer the most successful Champions League clubs away from danger.
Youssef attributed the unexpected hiding from Pirates to several factors, most notably having to play in oppressive heat while on a dawn-to-dusk fast during the Ramadan Muslim holy month.
Facing the South Africans behind closed doors was a blow after the authorities barred spectators because of security concerns, and Ahly were serving a Confederation of African Football ban anyway over flare-throwing during a qualifier.
"It is crucial that we succeed in Congo," admitted former Ahly defender Youssef. "A victory would give us the push we need to reach the knockout stages."
Recently appointed Toulan said: "Our loss to Leopards is not the end of the world - we can recover and reaching the semi-finals remains our immediate target."
Both coaches were cheered by medical bulletins with talismanic midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika set to play for Ahly and likely lone Zamalek striker Ahmed Eid also fit to start.
Leopards, who boast two-metre-plus Malian Arouna Drame and an equally dangerous striker in captain Rudy Guelord Bhebey-Ndey, have won 15 of 17 home Caf games and drawn one.
But Pirates, who revelled in the freedom afforded by Ahly, failed to find a way past a massed Leopards rearguard in Soweto and Zamalek are likely to prove equally efficient defenders.
"Bigger, better and stronger than Ahly," was the verdict of 'Buccaneers' coach Roger de Sa when quizzed about Zamalek, who are back in South Africa after a 20-year absence.
There is Group B gridlock with Sewe San Pedro of Ivory Coast, Esperance of Tunisia, Recreativo Libolo of Angola and Coton Sport of Cameroon collecting three points each.
Each club won their first home game so the odds slightly favour Coton and Sewe on Sunday when they host Libolo and two-time champions Esperance respectively.
It will boost the Cameroonians and Ivorians that they have two of the sharpest Champions League strikers this season with Alexis Kada and Kevin Zougoula claiming five goals each.