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CAFCL Preview: Group B finishes with decisive clash between Al Ahly and Al-Hilal in Cairo

It is a “do or die” situation for Africa’s Club of the 20th Century on Saturday when Al Ahly host Sudanese champions Al-Hilal Omdurman in Cairo for their CAF Champions League Group B clash. Group leaders Mamelodi Sundowns gave Ahly a reprieve last matchday when the South African champions managed a draw against Hilal in Sudan, a result that kept Al Ahly’s hopes alive of reaching the quarterfinals. Only a victory will see Ahly overtake Hilal for second position in Group B and the Egyptian club are doing all they can to boost their home advantage.

The clubs have a history of close matchups over the last four years in the CAFCL with Ahly winning two and Hilal defeating the Cairo club in their most recent matchup back in February, a 1-0 victory in Sudan that resulted in plenty of controversy. Hilal have only won once against Ahly from five matches played in Egypt when the Crescent Club won 1-0 in a match played in 2004. Ahly head coach Marcel Koller is under heavy pressure to get a victory and expressed concern that the international break may negatively impact his team after several Ahly players took part in matches with their national teams. The full capacity of the Cairo International Stadium is available so that Ahly can have up to 50,000 supporters in the stands for a special occasion.

Goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy, forward Kahraba, right back Mohamed Hany and central defender Mohamed Abdelmonem represented Egypt while left back Ali Maâloul and Aliou Dieng were important players for Tunisia and Mali over the last week but it appears they will all be available after reduced training to rest the players. South Africa national team forward Percy Tau is set to play a role on Saturday but Hussein El Shahat appears likely to be in the starting eleven due to extended action for Tau in Bafana Bafana’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifying matches against Liberia. Koller will be relieved that midfielder Hamdi Fathi and forward Ahmed Abdelkader were exclusively used as substitutes for Egypt’s matches.

Al-Hilal failed to take advantage of a good opportunity against Sundowns with Athir El Tahir’s penalty kick being saved to prevent a victory and qualification for the quarterfinals. However, head coach Florent Ibengé expressed confidence in his team’s ability to get the draw or victory they need in Cairo. The Congolese tactician stated his team are not concerned over the large number of Ahly supporters who will be in the stadium and the leadership of Hilal announced they have purchased many tickets to encourage their supporters to make the journey up north for the match.

El Tahir revealed that he received death threats for missing the penalty kick against Sundowns but the Sudan national team will be an important presence on the right side of the Hilal defense. Senegal’s Ousmane Diouf will anchor the defensive line from his central position and Abuaagla Abdalla is another key figure deep in the midfield who played every minute for Sudan during the international break. Makabi Lilepo made his return to competitive action for DR Congo as a substitute and the attacker has been sensational for Hilal in the Champions League. The former AS Vita Club player joins Sudan national team forward Mohamed Abdelrahman as Hilal’s greatest threats to score on Saturday.

The other Group B match features a “dead rubber” between group leaders Mamelodi Sundowns and last placed Coton Sport of Cameroon, who will attempt to earn their first point in South Africa. Sundowns head coach Rulani Mokwena said that the club are still hungry for a victory at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria to guarantee first place in the group and that there is no room for complacency despite their success on both domestic in continental fronts this season. Sundowns can only miss out on being group winners if they fail to win and Al-Hilal defeat Al Ahly in Cairo.

More on both matchups from Group B are below.

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