Leading Egyptian football club Zamalek will host a CAF Champions League qualifier in an empty Cairo stadium this weekend after recent incidents triggered the renewal of a ban on spectators.
Authorities allowed crowds limited to 3,000 for earlier fixtures this year involving Zamalek and fellow Cairo club Al-Ahly in the premier Confederation of AFrican Football club competition.
But despite spectators being outnumbered by security forces at the 90,000-seat Borg El Arab stadium on the outskirts of Mediterranean city Alexandria, there was trouble at the matches.
Zamalek supporters ripped up seats after a 7-0 thrashing of Chadian visitors Gazelle -- a strange way to celebrate a one-sided result that ensured the White Knights of overall victory.
Ahly fans threw projectiles on the pitch during a game against Kenyan visitors Tusker with one landing close to the visiting goalkeeper just before the home team scored the second goal in a 2-0 win that secured qualification.
While Zamalek host Saint George from Ethiopia in Cairo this weekend, Ahly visit Tunisia for a match against CA Bizertin. Both are first leg fixtures with the overall winners advancing to the lucrative mini-league phase.
The incidents in Alexandria plus clashes between spectators and police in Ismaily after the home side were eliminated from the Arab Champions League convinced sports minister Farouk Al-Amry to act.
"Because of incidents involving Ahly, Zamalek and Ismaily, which put the safety of fans at risk and damaged property, my ministry has decided to ban spectators from African and Arab club fixtures," he said.
This is a massive blow for Ahly and Zamalek, the two most successful clubs in the Champions League with seven and five titles respectively, and serious title contenders this year.
Ahly defied the odds to defeat old rivals Esperance of Tunisia and win the 2012 Champions League as the final was the only match of seven en route to glory in which spectators were permitted.
Zamalek, with a much weaker team than this year, also had to play most games behind closed doors and made a timid group-stage exit after failing to win in six home and away outings.
The decision to bring back closed-door fixtures drew an angry reaction from Zamalek fans with some protesting outside the sports ministry offices in Cairo this week and blocking entry to the building.
A huge banner carried by fans of the White Knights read: "The stand is closed on the orders of the ministry and the ministry is closed on the orders of the stand."
Egypt coach Bob Bradley told reporters: "A football match without spectators has no soul. Any footballer who has played in an empty stadium will confirm what an eerie, silent experience it is."
American Bradley took over the national squad two years ago and has also suffered from the fan ban with none allowed for the opening 2014 World Cup qualifier against Mozambique in Alexandria last June.
A few thousand were permitted to watch Egypt grab a 2-1 win over Zimbabwe at the same venue last month, keeping a 100 percent record in a group completed by Guinea and raising hopes of a first appearance at the finals in 24 years.
"I told my players that when they look at the stands they must imagine there are 85 million supporters there because everyone in Egypt would be at the stadium if they had the chance."
Egypt have one more home group fixture -- against Guinea at a venue still to be announced during September -- and it is unclear if they will suffer a similar fate as the clubs.
While the national team and clubs have been allowed to fulfil international obligations, domestic football only recently resumed after a one-year ban when rioting after a match between Al-Masry and Ahly in Port Said claimed 70 lives.