Friday Aug 09, 2019. 09:00
Egyptian giants Al Ahly start their 2019-20 CAF Champions League campaign against lowly Atlabara FC on Sunday, expecting to brush aside the South Sudanese club with ease before jetting off for the second leg in a fortnight.
Ahly recently clinched a 41st Egyptian Premier League title as they continued their dominance of football in the country, and after Egypt’s failure at the recent Africa Cup of Nations finals, can be a spur to better times in the coming months.
They look a settled team under Uruguayan coach Martín Lasarte, even though he has had to bat away questions about job offers elsewhere in recent weeks, and it would be a major surprise were they not to rack up a big first leg lead.
Authorities are set to allow 10,000 fans to attend the game at the Borg El Arab Stadium in Alexandria, a fixture that was due to be played in Atlabara’s home in Juba, but has been switched due to renovation work being done on their stadium.
It means both legs will be played Alexandria, a definite advantage for Ahly, if they needed any.
The Egyptians have made three new signings to beef up their squad. Mali midfielder Aliou Dieng has arrived from Algeria’s MC Alger, while Mohamed Magdy is a capture from Pyramids.
Lasarte has also bolstered the defence with the signing of Mahmoud Metwally from Ismaily.
The Red Devils were runners-up in the Champions League in 2017 and 2018, but then suffered a humiliating 5-0 loss to Mamelodi Sundowns in the first leg of their quarterfinal in 2018-19 that sent shockwaves through the team.
It was their heaviest ever defeat in African club competition and a low moment for the team that has forced them to take stock of their current status among the continent’s elite teams.
Atlabara are no strangers to continental competition but have made no impact having lost in the preliminary round of the Champions League in 2014 and 2017, while they also got a single point from three pool matches in the recent CECAFA Club Cup.
Ahly will be overwhelming favourites to take the tie, but many will be looking too at the manner of their win, especially after the embarrassment of last season.