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CAFCL Quarterfinal Preview: Al Ahly (EGY) vs. Raja CA (MAR)

A clash between African titans highlights the quarterfinal stage of the 2021-22 CAF Champions League when defending champions Al Ahly host Morocco’s Raja CA in the first leg on Saturday. Following a disappointing group stage campaign that saw the current Egyptian Premier League leaders finish second in Group A, Ahly will host the first leg before traveling to Casablanca for the return match but will be expecting to advance to the final four. Raja, with plenty of time to rest in the buildup to the tie, have high expectations of continuing their excellent form in all competitions.

Al Ahly and manager Pitso Mosimane have been forced to explore the depth of the squad in recent weeks due to injuries but it appears the Cairo club will have a mostly full-strength squad for Saturday’s first leg. Tunisian left back Ali Maâloul is questionable after missing out on training the day before but should start as well as right back Mohamed Hany. Egypt national team starting center back Mohamed Abdelmonem returned to start in the team’s 1-0 league defeat to Al Masry last weekend and will partner veteran Yasser Ibrahim.

Another star for Ahly who has gradually returned from injury is playmaker Mohamed Magdy “Afsha”, who is among the more steady performers. The 26-year-old is expected to start and will hopefully bring the best out of an inconsistent front line, especially forward Mohamed Sherif and one player out of the group of Percy Tau, Luis Miquissone and Taher Mohamed. Ahmed Abdelkader is expected to start on the left wing where the 22-year-old has thrived since returning to the club from last season’s loan to Smouha.

Raja have found plenty of stability since an up and down start to their campaign with the only blemish in the last two months being a road defeat to Guinea’s Horoya in the CAFCL group stage. Manager Rachid Taoussi continues to endorse his squad by projecting confidence and referencing the mix of veterans and young players in the team as reason for supporters to be confident. However, with the first leg taking place in Egypt, Taoussi emphasized the importance of his team keeping their composure and the score close so they can finish the job in the return leg that will take place in Casablanca.

Goalkeeper and captain Anas Zniti has returned in recent weeks after a lengthy period out with injury to rejoin a defense that continues to perform excellently with Jamal Harkass and giant center back Marouane Hadhoudi among the standouts. Hadhoudi stressed in pre-match comments that the team must treat this first leg like any other match to avoid crumbling under the weight of expectations. The attack for Raja has been less reliable but veteran playmaker Mohsine Moutouali and forward Hamid Ahadad will be counted on to provide the cutting edge.

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