Eight-time African champions, Al Ahly, will try to move another step closer to the knockout stages when they entertain Tanzania champions Simba in Alexandria on Saturday, as Group D enters match day three. Ahly top the group with four points, one more than their visitors and a win is vital to their quest towards yet another continental title.
Record champions Ahly started their mini league campaign with a home 2-0 win over DR Congo giants AS Vita. They fought back to score a late away equalizer against Algeria's debutants JS Saoura to raise their tally to four points and go top of the tough looking Group D. On the other hand, Simba launched their comeback to the group stage after a 15-year hiatus with a home 3-0 win over JS Saoura, but fell heavily 5-0 to AS Vita in Kinshasa.
Ahly looks recovered from series of bad results that followed their last season's final defeat to eventual winners Esperance of Tunisia. However, the Red Devils' playing body has been characterized by injuries to key players. On Saturday, they will be missing no less than nine players due to various injuries. Captain Hossam Ashour, veteran Ahmed Fathy, charismatic Waleed Soliman, in addition to defender Mohamed Naguib and strikers Marawan Mohsen and Walid Azaro are unavailable. To add more salt, new recruits Ramadan Sobhi, Yasser Ibrahim and Hamdy Fathy are also absent because of the same reason.
Despite all these setbacks, Ahly Uruguayan coach Martin Lasarte has poured cold water on the issue at hand, but has blamed the congested calendar to the cause of injuries.
"I believe our physical work is going well. The problem is that we are playing a game every 72 hours and this is not logic and causes a high number of injuries. But the players are returning gradually to the team and we have to continue working", said the 57-year old trainer.
Being the first Uruguayan to coach the Red Devils, Lasarte's clear mission is to return the continent's Holy Grail to the Cairo-based club's trophy cabinet. Ahly, boasting of 19 different CAF titles last won the elite Champions League in 2013, and have failed to extend their record recently, finishing as losing finalists in the last two editions.
The good news for Lasarte is the return of the attacking duo of youngster Salah Mohsen and Nigerian-import Junior Ajayi. They both took place in Ahly's midweek 2-1 victory over Wadi Degla in the domestic league, with Amro El Sulaya and Tunisian Ali Maaloul both finding the net.
It will be the second time both sides lock horns in a CAF competition. Thirty-four (34) years ago, they met in the 1985 African Cup Winners' Cup second round. Simba won 2-1 in Dar El Salam before Ahly guaranteed an aggregate win with a 2-0 victory in Cairo. The Red Devils went to win the now defunct competition at this season.
Meanwhile, AS Vita will try to continue their winning ways when they entertain JS Saoura in Kinshasa, also on Saturday.