Football: Ahly hope to restore Egyptian pride

Cairo club Al-Ahly set out this weekend to win the CAF Confederation Cup final and improve the battered image of Egyptian football.

The 'Red Devils' play Ivory Coast outfit Sewe Sport Saturday in the first leg in Abidjan with the return match scheduled for December 6 in Cairo.

After decades of football success at national team and club levels, this year has largely been a tale of failures for Egyptian sides.

The national team created unwanted history by failing for a record third consecutive time to reach the Africa Cup of Nations, a competition they have won an unrivalled seven times.

Ahly had hopes of a record third straight CAF Champions League title dashed by Libyan namesakes Al-Ahly Benghazi in the final qualifying round for the group phase.

Fellow Cairo club Zamalek did make the mini-league stage only to fare disastrously, winning just one game out of six and finishing bottom of the table.

Neither Ismaily nor Wadi Degla, the original 2014 Confederation Cup entrants from the North African state, got beyond the qualifying stage.

By reaching the Champions League last-16, Ahly received a second chance of CAF glory, 'parachuting' into the play-offs of the second-tier Confederation Cup.

Immediately installed as title favourites because of an 18 CAF title pedigree, Ahly found the going tough, scraping past Moroccans Difaa El-Jadida on away goals.

Head-to-head results enabled them to pip Sewe for top place in a group where the Egyptians won just twice in six outings.

But hints of the Ahly of old were evident in home and away semi-final victories over Cameroonians Coton Sport with Amr Gamal scoring the second-leg winner in Cairo.

The three goals of Gamal made him the leading Ahly scorer in the competition this season, but he will miss the first leg through injury.

His absence is a major blow to a goal-shy Egyptian side that has scored just 10 in 10 matches en route to the decider.

Outstanding shot-stopper

Also ruled out is goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy, who has emulated his father by becoming an outstanding shot-stopper for Ahly and Egypt.

And if missing Gamal and Ekramy was not sufficiently depressing for Spanish coach Juan Carlos Garrido, several other first choices are doubtful.

Defender Sherif Abdel-Fadil and midfielders Abdallah El-Said and Mohamed Farouk face late fitness tests.

"We are aware how important it is to win the Cup for Egypt," said Garrido, who hopes to become the first Spaniard to coach a CAF title-winning club.

"Millions of Egyptians are relying on us to make them happy and it is up to the players now -- they must work hard and concentrate."

Garrido knows Sewe well as the Ivorians drew 1-1 with Ahly in Abidjan and lost 1-0 in Cairo at the mini-league stage.

"We will have to fight hard because Sewe are a very good side. They possess players of great quality who deserve respect."

Sewe coach Rigo Gervais hopes for at least a two-goal lead at the 20,000-seat Stade Robert Champroux and free admission should ensure a capacity crowd.

"If we want to lift this trophy it is essential that we build a two-goal lead at home," he told a pre-final media conference.

"We want to create history by winning our first CAF final. Ahly have won so many African trophies and now it is our turn.

"Having played Ahly twice already we know they are a cunning, experienced team, but we must not be overawed by them."

As Sewe progressed to the final, the form of four-goal Roger Assale and fellow midfielder Christian Kouame was noticed and both join Democratic Republic of Congo giants TP Mazembe soon.

Goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo is another star with consistent outstanding displays enabling him to replace long-serving Boubacar Barry as national team first choice