Weakened Ahly battle in Egyptian derby
The sparks are expected to fly in an all-Egyptian CAF Champions League clash between Al Ahly and Ismaily even though Ahly have already qualified for the semifinals, while Sunday’s foes will have to try their luck again next year.
Ahly joined JS Kabylie of Algeria in the last four of Africa’s most prestigious club competition after they defeated Nigeria’s Heartland 2-1 in Cairo on Sunday.
They thus recorded eight points from five matches, while Ismaily, who pressed them all the way to the Egyptian league crown last year, remained rooted to the basement of Group B after they lost 1-0 at JSK in Tizi-Ouzou.
Heartland host JSK in Owerri, also on Sunday, but even if they beat the Algerian ‘Canaries’, they would only end up on seven points, not enough to dislodge Ahly from the second spot.
Ahly will line up a second-string team at Ismaily as they rest five of their key stars – Mohamed Aboutrika, Mohamed Fadl, Wael Gomaa, Sayed Moawad and goalkeeper Sherif Ekrami – to avoid any of them picking up another booking that will earn them a suspension for the first leg semifinal.
In the semis, Ahly will battle the winner of Group A, which would either be Esperance of Tunisia or holders TP Mazembe from DR Congo.
With several stars rested, it will be a chance for substitute goalkeeper Ahmed Adel to make his first appearance for the ‘Red Devils’ this season.
On the other hand, Ismaily will be without Amr Al-Sulaya for this Egyptian derby, which has pride at stake, after the young midfielder suffered a knee injury in their last Champions league match away at JSK.
Al-Sulaya, 20, has so impressed this season as to win his first cap for Egypt against Sierra Leone in a recent Nations Cup qualifier in Cairo. He will be sidelined for at least three weeks.
When both teams first clashed in this competition, Ahly won courtesy of a last-gasp winner by veteran international defender Gomaa.
"It's our habit, we go after the win at any time even in the dying seconds," a delighted Gomaa said afterwards.
Ismaily complained bitterly about the handling of the match by Malian referee Koman Coulibaly, particularly as it concerned Ahly’s winner four minutes into time added on, arguing that Ahly midfielder Ahmed Hassan fouled an Ismaily player in the build-up to the goal.
The referee needed to be escorted out of the pitch by police after Ismaily players and officials surrounded him in protest after the game.
Coulibaly was a replacement for injured Moroccan referee Abdellah El Achiri and Ismaily complained against the choice of the Malian even before the match kicked off.