With just days left before their crucial Confederation of African Football (CAF) Champions League clash on Sunday, Egyptian giants Al-Ahly still do not know where they will host Tanzania’s Young Africans.
After Al-Ahly supporters injured 25 policemen last month during clashes after the Egyptian side’s CAF Super Cup victory over Tunisians CS Sfaxien at Cairo Stadium, the local authorities banned the Red Devils from playing in the capital.
Record eight-time African champions Al-Ahly have tried to secure a venue in second city Alexandria for the first-round second leg, but with time ticking down to the Sunday kickoff, the holders of 18 CAF titles have yet to find a ground.
Virtually all soccer fixtures in Egypt since the ousting of former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi last year have been played behind closed doors and that is likely to happen again this weekend — assuming Al-Ahly find a temporary home — as they seek to overcome a 1-0 first-leg deficit.
Al-Ahly, seeking a record third straight CAF Champions League title, were forced to defend for much of the first leg in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on Sunday last week.
However, the Egyptian barricade was finally breached eight minutes from time when Nadir Haroub nodded a cross past Sherif Ekramy.
History favors Al-Ahly, as they have averaged four goals a game against the Young Africans on three previous visits to Tanzania. However, the Dar es Salaam side have a stronger squad than in the past, experienced Dutch coach Hans van der Pluijm and have prepared.
Gone are the days of haphazard build-ups, with Yanga spending two weeks fine-tuning in Turkey as they seek only their second group-stage appearance in the tournament.
Striker Amr Gamal believes Al-Ahly were unlucky losers last weekend and predicts his team will march on to the final qualifying round.
“We will win at home and progress to the second round,” he said.
Zamalek, Al-Ahly’s neighbors and five-time CAF Champions League title-holders, are also uncomfortably placed, having won by only 1-0 at home to Angola’s Kabuscorp. Other former African champions in precarious positions after 1-0 away losses are Morocco’s Raja Casablanca and Coton Sport of Cameroon.
Democratic Republic of Congo outfit Vita expect to advance after holding Dynamos 0-0 in Zimbabwe, while other former title-holders Esperance, Mazembe and Setif are even better placed.
Tunisia’s Esperance have a 3-2 lead and home advantage over Kenyan club Gor Mahia, while Mazembe host Cameroon side Astres on level terms. Setif were the most convincing first-leg winners, beating ASFA Yennenga 5-0.