Al Ahly practise penalties‚ despite 5-0 deficit against Mamelodi Sundowns

12 April 2019 - 11:48 By Nick Said
Mamelodi Sundowns players take part in a training session at their Alexandria base in Egypt ahead of the Caf Champions League quarterfinal second leg match against Al Ahly on Saturday April 13 2019.
Mamelodi Sundowns players take part in a training session at their Alexandria base in Egypt ahead of the Caf Champions League quarterfinal second leg match against Al Ahly on Saturday April 13 2019.
Image: Mamelodi Sundowns/Twitter

Al Ahly players were practising penalties on Thursday such is their belief that they can fight back from a 5-0 deficit against Mamelodi Sundowns in their Caf Champions League quarterfinal‚ second leg at in Alexandria on Saturday.

And they will be roared on by a vociferous home crowd with some 30‚000 tickets sold officially for the match at the 80‚000-seater the Borg El Arab Stadium.

At least three times as many fans want to attend and Ahly are locked in negotiations with Egyptian authorities – who have limited soccer crowds since supporters’ involvement in the Arab Spring uprising in 2011 – to be able to sell more.

The switch of venue from the 27‚000-seater Suez Stadium to Alexandria should not have been allowed according to Caf statutes as it came within 10 days of the fixture‚ but it is also not necessarily a bad thing for Sundowns.

It is the same venue where they lifted the Champions League trophy in 2016‚ despite a 1-0 loss to Zamalek (Downs won 3-1 on aggregate)‚ and they will be familiar with both the stadium and the city‚ and should feel at home in the surroundings.

Ahly have been talking up their chances in midweek‚ determined to fight their way back into the contest‚ and that confidence showed on Thursday as they practised penalties ahead of a potential shootout – though that may also have been a stunt for the media.

They got a morale-boost of sorts with a 2-1 Egyptian Premier League victory over Misr Lel Makasa on Wednesday‚ which moved them to the top of the log ahead of hated rivals Zamalek and big-spenders Pyramids.

A sideshow to Saturday’s meeting with Sundowns is the fact that they face a potentially season-defining league clash with Pyramids on Thursday next week.

So how much energy they will want to put in chasing what is a seemingly lost cause against Sundowns remains to be seen.

Ahly are definitely without defender Saad Samir and goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy due to injury‚ while midfielder Karim Walid‚ commonly known as Nedved‚ also appears to be missing after taking a knock in midweek.

Attacking midfielder Ahmed Hamoudi has been left out for “technical reasons”‚ according to the club.

Ahly did beat Tanzanian side Simba 5-0 earlier in this year’s Champions League‚ in the group stage‚ at Borg El Arab. But as they push forward against Sundowns‚ the South African club will be much better equipped than the East Africans to pick them off on the counterattack.

Ahly’s desperation for goals should leave plenty of gaps for Sundowns to move into and they are among the best in the continent at exploiting those opportunities.

Downs have not conceded more than two goals in any of their last 33 Champions League matches‚ and even when they did‚ against Enyimba in 2016‚ it was with a make-shift side made up of fringe players in Nigeria.

The match on Saturday will be refereed by Gambian Bakary Gassama‚ who is regarded as arguably the best on the African continent.

He was also in the middle when Sundowns took on Zamalek in the second leg of their Champions League final in 2016 in Alexandria‚ and won praise for his handling of the game in a high-pressure situation.

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