Egypt's Ahly appear to be taking no chances against Township Rollers in what has been dubbed ‘ a do or die’ encounter in the African Champions League set for Egypt on Tuesday [July 17].
The record eight-time winners are still chasing their first win in the competition as they are currently sitting at an unfamiliar bottom-end position in the four-team group with only a point from two games.
They were held to a goalless draw at home by Tunisian giants Esperance before slumping to a 2-0 loss to Uganda's Kampala City, slipping to the bottom of Group A. Esperance lead the group with six points, followed by Kampala and Township Rollers on three each.
Ahram Online reported that Ahly have just returned to Egypt after ending a seven-day training camp in Croatia, where they played two friendly games. The camp, which ran under the helm of newly-appointed French coach Patrice Carteron, was described as 'successful' on the club's official website.
The team were held to a 1-1 draw against Slovenia champions Olimpija Ljubljana on Friday, but won 5-1 against Krasnodar of Russia three days later. The former Mali and TP Mazembe coach Carteron replaced Hossam El-Badry, who stepped down in May following a poor end to the season despite winning a third straight Egyptian Premier League title, the club's 40th overall.
On the other hand, Rollers have played two friendlies with South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns – losing away 0-3 before winning at home 1-0. With preparations now on their final week, Rollers are equally upbeat about their prospects.
Rollers have become the first local side to qualify for the group stages of the African Champions League. Team’s spokesperson Bafana Pheto said they will leave on Saturday, travelling by bus to Johannesburg while they will catch an overnight flight to Egypt.
“We believe we are very much ready to compete against Ahly. We have done enough preparations and hence trust that we will make it. As you saw them on Saturday, they are more than ready for this. We will go out to attack because we take that to be the best form of defence,” he said. He appreciated that Sundowns gave them the best practice match for the kind of competition that they are to face.
Pheto dismissed suggestions that their coach Nikola Kavazovic could be distracted by claims that he was about to join South Africa’s top side – Kaizer Chiefs – as coach. “Our coach is fully focused on this game; there is nothing like that,” he said.
“These two games against Sundowns are a reward for all our blood, sweat and tears from last season. At the same time, we have an opportunity to experiment before the two games against Ahly, since we can speak about almost an equal quality between two teams (Sundowns and Al Ahly). The only difference is that we are not interested in the result versus Mamelodi, but in finding solutions for Ahly, while in Cairo result is only we care about,” Kavazovic told rollersfc.com.
He added that preparations for Ahly were progressing well, though they could be distracted by the unavailability of key playing personnel.
“Segolame Boy is unavailable for two months due to a knee problem. Edwin Moalosi is complaining of an injury that has recurred over the past couple of years. Also, our success in the Champions League means top clubs are interested in our players, and you never know who could be signed. So, while I have planned well for Ahly, a lot will depend on whether we have enough on the pitch to implement those plans,” Kavazovic said.
The Serbian tactician added that his side returned from the off season in good condition.
“I trust my players; they have individual programmes and came back after the break in good shape. Like before, they didn’t let me down. Training methods are the same, and so is the players’ response – excellent,” Kavazovic said. The game will be played on Tuesday at 9 pm Egypt time (10 pm in Botswana). [english.ahram.org.eg; rollersfc.com; The Patriot on Sunday]