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Egypt’s champions Al Ahly need a ground and a victory

Johannesburg: Egyptian giants Al Ahly do not know where they will host Tanzanians Young Africans — just three days before a crucial CAF Champions League clash.

Crowd trouble at a recent African fixture has led Cairo authorities to ban the ‘Red Devils’ from playing in the capital city.

Record eight-time African champions Al Ahly reacted by trying to secure a venue in second city Alexandria for the first round, second leg qualifier. But with time ticking down to the Sunday kick-off, the winners of 18 CAF titles have not found a ground to stage the game.

Al Ahly supporters injured 25 policeman last month during clashes after a CAF Super Cup victory over Tunisians CS Sfaxien at the Cairo Stadium.

Virtually all football fixtures in Egypt since the 2013 ousting of President Mohammad Mursi have been played behind closed doors.

And that is the likely scenario this weekend — assuming Al Ahly find a temporary home — as they seek to overcome a 1-0 first-leg deficit.

“Authorities are reluctant to hold any football match in the presence of fans after what happened in the recent Ahly game,” Egyptian Football Association spokesman Azmi Megahed said.

Ahly, seeking a record third consecutive Champions League title, were forced to defend for much of the match in Dar es Salaam.

However, the Egyptian barricade was finally breached eight minutes from time when Nadir Haroub nodded a cross past goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy.

History favours Ahly as they have averaged four goals a game against Young Africans on three previous visits to the North African country by the Dar es Salaam outfit.

But the Tanzanians possess a stronger squad than in the past, have experienced Dutch coach Hans van der Pluijm, and prepared thoroughly.

Gone are the days of haphazard build-ups with ‘Yanga’ spending two weeks fine tuning in Turkey as they seek only a second group-stage appearance.

Young striker Amr Gamal believes Ahly were unlucky losers last weekend and predicts his team will march on to the final qualifying round.

“It was tough in Tanzania but we did not deserve to lose,” he said. “We will win at home and progress to the second round.”

Zamalek, Cairo neighbours of Ahly and five-time Champions League title-holders, are also uncomfortably placed having won only 1-0 at home to Angolans Kabuscorp.

Veteran defender Mahmoud Fathallah succeeded where the strikers repeatedly failed by grabbing the early second-half match-winner.

“I am positive we will qualify,” stressed Zamalek coach Ahmed ‘Mido’ Hossam to reporters ahead of a long journey to Luanda in south-west Africa.

“A bigger victory margin would have been nice, but I am satisfied with the result. We will play better in Angola and win again.”

Other former African champions in precarious positions after 1-0 away losses are Moroccans Raja Casablanca and Cameroonians Coton Sport

Raja, runners-up to Bayern Munich at the 2013 FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco, host Guineans Horoya and Coton entertain Burundians Flambeau l’Est.

Democratic Republic of Congo outfit Vita expect to advance after holding Dynamos 0-0 in Zimbabwe, and other former title-holders Esperance, Mazembe and Setif are even better placed.

Tunisians Esperance have a 3-2 lead and home advantage over Kenyans Gor Mahia and Mazembe host Cameroonians Astres on level terms after a 1-1 Douala deadlock.

Setif were the most convincing first-leg winners, firing five unanswered goals past ASFA Yennenga, and turning the return match in Burkina Faso into a formality.

But Nigerians Enyimba are in serious trouble, having to visit Mali after suffering a stunning 2-1 home defeat by unfancied Real Bamako.