31 January 2019

Africa: Tricky Mission As Zamalek Visits Gor Mahia

Egyptian giants Zamalek will kick-off their mini league campaign with a tricky trip to Kenya as guests of Gor Mahia in Nairobi on Sunday. Both sides lock horns at Moi International Sports Center in Kasarani as Group D gets underway.

Having nine CAF club titles to their name (5 Champions League, 3 Super Cup and one Cup Winners' Cup), Zamalek's last continental glory dates back 16 years ago, when they defeated Morocco's Wydad Athletic Club to lift the 2003 CAF Super Cup. Since then the White Knights have failed to leave their mark on the continent they once dominated.

But this season carries high hopes for the side that returns to the Confederation Cup group stage for the first time since 2015, with a dream of going all the way. Being in an exceptional domestic form that has seen them topping the Egyptian Premier League halfway into the season, Zamalek took the continental scene by storm reaching the mini league stage in style.

A 7-2 aggregate victory over Chad's AS Coton Sport was followed by a 3-1 aggregate victory over Moroccan side Ittihad Tangier to see Zamalek booking the group stage ticket. In a group that also includes Algeria's Nasr Hussein Dey and Angola's Petro Atletico de Luanda, Zamalek are favourites to reach the quarterfinals.

"I have asked the players to forget about the domestic league and focus on our continental mission," Zamalek's coach Christian Gross said after seeing his side thrashing Misr Makassa 4-1 on Tuesday to cement their top spot.

"It's a totally different competition now and we have to be 100 per cent focused from the start to the end", he added.

Gross, 64, has won Zamalek's supporters' confidence. The Swiss that was on the ranks of English side Tottenham Hotspur, German Stuttgart and Swiss sides Grasshopper, Basel and Young Boys joined the Cairo White Knights last August, and has proven to be the right choice. Series of good results coupled with breath-taking performances has made Gross a favourite of the Zamalek faithful.

"It's always good to start the group stage with a victory. Gor Mahia game is going to be difficult but we have to give our all, whether the game is at home or away", added Gross who led Saudi side Al Ahly Jeddah to a domestic double in 2016.

A hectic mini-league agenda will see each side playing six games in as many weeks, with top two sides of each group progressing to the knockout stages. Nasr Hussein Day faces Petro Atletico in Algiers in the other Group D day one game, also on Sunday.

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