Rare crowd support gives Ahly CAF Super Cup boost
Egyptian club Al Ahly will experience rare crowd support Saturday when they play Congo Brazzaville side AC Leopards for the CAF Super Cup.
Post-Arab Spring security concerns meant the Cairo Red Devils played six of seven home games behind closed doors last year en route to a record-extending seventh CAF Champions League title.
Supporters of the most successful club in CAF competitions with 15 titles -- seven Champions League, four Super Cup, four African Cup Winners Cup -- could attend only the first leg of the final against Esperance of Tunisia.
That game was moved north from the Cairo base of Ahly to a military-owned 85,000-capacity stadium in the Mediterranean resort of Borg El Arab, 50 kilometres west of Alexandria.
The Super Cup fixture, an annual one-off game between the winners of the CAF Champions League and second-tier CAF Confederation Cup, will be staged at the same venue and the authorities have relaxed a ban on spectators.
"I miss the sight and sound of our supporters in the stands," admitted Ahly striker Ahmed Abdel Zahar to reporters, "and their presence for the Super Cup match can drive us to victory."
Ahly go into the encounter with a team barely recognisable from that which defeated defending champions Esperance 2-1 away last November after a 1-1 first-leg stalemate.
Full-back Ahmed Fathy and striker Mohamed 'Geddo' Nagy have been lent to English second-tier promotion chasers Hull City and iconic midfielder Mohamed Abou Trika has made a temporary transfer to United Arab Emirates club Bani Yas.
These moves were designed to help the cash flow of a football club sharing the same struggle for survival as others in Egypt after domestic football was halted last year when 74 supporters died in post-match Port Said rioting.
Coach Hossam El Badry must also do without injured full-back Sayed Moawad and midfielders Hossam Ghaly, Ahmed Seddik and Walid Soliman for a match offering the victors $75,000 with a $50,000 consolation prize for the vanquished.
"Leopards are worthy opponents having won the Confederation Cup," stressed El Badry, "but we have studied videos of the Congolese and know their strengths and weaknesses."
The Congolese from western city Dolisie were unexpected title winners last year, eliminating big names like CS Sfaxien of Tunisia, Heartland of Nigeria, Moghreb Fes of Morocco and Wydad Casablanca of Morocco en route to glory.
"We may lack a competitive edge because the domestic season has not kicked off," confessed Cameroon-born coach Joseph Omog, "but we are confident having played friendlies, plus a Champions League match last weekend."
Early and late goals from Heritier Ngouelou and Herman Lakolo gave Leopards a 2-0 home win over Gabonese club Mounana last Sunday when they made their Champions League debut.
Ahly received a bye into the round of 32 and defeated Bani Suef Telephones 2-0 in the recently restarted national league, although two missed spot-kicks led El Badry to order extra penalty practice in case of a Super Cup shoot-out.
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