Egyptian club Al Ahly seek to cap a year of defying the odds by snatching away success when they take on holders Esperance of Tunisia in Saturday’s African Champions League Final second leg.
The Cairo giants, who have won more continental titles than any other African club, were held to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the final in Alexandria earlier this month.
With home advantage at the Rades Stadium on the outskirts of the Tunisian capital, Esperance are heavy favourites in the return game but the Egyptians have overcome remarkable adversity this year and will hold out strong hopes of again turning around a difficult situation.
Ahly have not played a league match since January, after which all domestic football in Egypt was cancelled in the wake of the death of 74 Ahly supporters in a stadium riot in Port Said.
Their only competitive action since has been a total of 13 matches in continental competition. Al Ahly have kept sharp on a diet of training camps and friendly matches, several in the Middle East.
“They will not have come here to lose,” cautioned Esperance coach Nabil Maaloul of his opponent’s approach to the match.
“But I’d say the odds are 70 per cent to 30 per cent in our favour,” he told reporters.
Esperance will again be without key striker Youssef Msnaki, who has not recovered from appendicitis, and injured Ghanaian international fullback Harrison Afful.
Saturday’s final will have a restricted crowd of 35,000, a limitation imposed by Tunisia’s interior ministry.
Almost all football matches in the north African country have been played behind closed doors over the last year because of security fears.
The winners of the final will qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup next month.
The African representatives will take on either New Zealand side Auckland City or the Japanese league winners in the quarter-finals of the lucrative seven-team tournament.