Ahly return to action after Port Said tragedy

23 March 2012 06:16

African football giants Al Ahly of Egypt play at Coffee of Ethiopia Sunday in their first competitive fixture since 74 people died last month after a domestic game involving the Cairo club.

Record six-time African champions Ahly lost 3-1 in Port Said to Al Masry on February 1 and most of the post-match riot victims were crushed or stabbed to death with another 1,000 injured.

Egyptian authorities cancelled the national championship and plans for an alternate Martyrs Cup tournament have been scrapped amid security concerns in the volatile north African state after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.

Nervous officials would not even allow Ahly to play friendlies ahead of a CAF Champions League second round, first leg qualifier with Coffee 2,400 metres above sea level at the national stadium in Addis Ababa.

The ring-rusty 'Red Devils', whose last African title came in 2008, had to settle for a three-game tour of the United Arab Emirates, where they won once and lost twice.

Adding to the concerns of four-time CAF Champions League-winning coach Manuel Jose from Portugal are injury worries with two veterans of many an African battle -- defender Wael Gomaa and striker Emad Moteab -- likely absentees.

There are also doubts about midfielder Mohamed Barakat and strikers Mohamed 'Geddo' Nagy and Mauritania-born Dominique da Silva as Ahly prepare to tackle modest rivals who eliminated a Comoros Islands club in a preliminary tie.

Egypt are among 12 countries allowed to enter two clubs in the elite CAF club competition on merit and Zamalek, who have been crowned African champions five times, host Africa Sports from the Ivory Coast.

This rematch of the 1986 final -- won on penalties by Zamalek after each club triumphed 2-0 at home -- will be staged behind closed doors as punishment for crowd trouble at a CAF fixture staged by the 'White Knights' last year.

Egyptian coaching legend Hassan Shehata, who guided his country to a record three consecutive Africa Cup of Nations titles between 2006 and 2010, must do without injured striker Ahmed 'Mido' Hossam.

TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo sprang to international prominence two years ago by becoming the first team outside of Europe or South America to reach the FIFA Club World Cup final before losing to Inter Milan.

Hopes of a third CAF Champions League title on the trot for the 'Ravens' were shattered in 2011 by disqualification for fielding an ineligible player and they launch a fresh campaign against Power Dynamos in Zambia.

Mazembe arrived in copper mining hub Kitwe after a 200-kilometre bus journey from Lubumbashi with a 20-man squad including seven Zambians, five of whom were in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations-winning squad.

Congolese playmaker-cum-scorer Mabi Mputu and Cameroon-born midfielder Narcisse Ekanga, who lined up with co-hosts Equatorial Guinea at the recent Cup of Nations, are other members of a star-stacked Mazembe squad.

Title holders Esperance of Tunisia are away to Brikama United of Gambia and former African champions Vita Club of DR Congo, Etoile Sahel of Tunisia and Raja Casablanca of Morocco play in Algeria, Rwanda and Ghana respectively.

Source: AFP