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CAFCL Semifinal Preview: Al Ahly (EGY) vs. ES Sétif (ALG)

Egypt’s Al Ahly took down Moroccan giants Raja CA in the quarterfinals but now will welcome a stingy and well organized side when Algeria’s ES Sétif visit for the first leg of their CAF Champions League semifinal in Cairo. Ahly have been struggling under the weight of expectation and fixture congestion lately, dropping points in three straight Egyptian Premier League games. Meanwhile, Sétif are an unknown quantity who have found form under new manager Darko Novic to upset Tunisia’s Espérance in the quarterfinals and find stability in their domestic league campaign.

While Ahly’s league form has been quite poor, the Red Devils did excellently to survive a difficult challenge from Raja and advance with a second leg draw in Casablanca. However, manager Pitso Mosimane and his staff are dealing with a massive amount of pressure from their supporters and the media heading into the first leg. A slumping Ahly attack will have plenty of work ahead of them to earn a positive first leg result against a Sétif side that has only allowed five goals in seven matches through the CAFCL group stage and quarterfinals.

There are questions around the status of two key players for Ahly. Center back Mohamed Abdelmonem and center midfielder Amr El Solia are serious doubts for the match due to muscle injuries and would be massive losses. Yasser Ibrahim should deputize for Abdelmonem to start alongside Aymen Ashraf in the center of defense while Mohamed Hany and Ali Maâloul line up at right and left back.

Hamdi Fathi will be crucial in the center of midfield and Mali national team member Aliou Dieng is cleared to return. The big question will be a sputtering attack for Ahly. Mohamed Magdy “Afsha” is getting back to form in the central playmaker position, Ahmed Abdelkader should be back in the starting lineup on the wing and Hussein El Shahat has improved his form to make him a firm candidate to start on the opposite flank. However, Mohamed Sherif and Percy Tau have been misfiring and it is at the point where young striker Salah Mohsen might even get the nod.

Sétif will look to strike on the counter attack where they are poised to threaten an Ahly side that has looked quite vulnerable on the break. The Algerian side is projecting plenty of confidence and are embracing the opportunity to be underdogs once again. Under new manager Darko Novic the Black Eagles won their CAFCL quarterfinal second leg to advance past Espérance before defeating Médéa in Ligue 1 play with a 4-1 road victory. Novic stated that his team is well prepared for the encounter and will aim to maintain a solid defense while looking to perhaps sneak a valuable away goal.

Sofiane Khedairia was the star against Espérance with show stopping performances in both legs to keep the Tunisian side off the scoreboard. Former Algeria national team center back Hicham Belkaroui and Houari Ferhani form the backbone of a Sétif defense that will be difficult to break down. Veteran midfielder Amir Karaoui and the younger Ahmed Kendouci complement each other well in the midfield with the 22-year-old Kendouci continuing to stand out as a star player due to his reading of the game and eye for goal. Abdelmounene Djabou is a veteran playmaker who is particularly deadly on the counter attack and will look to find the goal along with striker Riad Benayad and attacking midfielder Akram Djahnit.

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