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African Football League Preview: Al Ahly SC (EGY)

The inaugural edition of the African Football League (AFL) will begin on Friday when the eight-team competition commences with a duel between Egypt’s Al Ahly and Simba SC of Tanzania. Pan-Africa Football is previewing each participating club and below we focus on the reigning African club champions and favorites to win the competition, Al Ahly:

Background

Al Ahly are the reigning champions of not only Egyptian football but African football as well. The Red Devils won the 2022-23 CAF Champions League and clinched that season’s Egyptian Premier League with plenty of matches to spare. The club has won well over 100 trophies between the Egyptian and African club competitions in its history and begins the African Football League as the favorites due to their status as Africa’s current top club.

Schedule

Quarterfinals

1st Leg- @ Simba SC on October 20 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

2nd Leg- vs Simba SC on October 24 in Cairo

Notable Arrivals and Departures

Arrivals

FW Anthony Modeste (FRA)- Free transfer

MF Emam Ashour (EGY)- Transfer from FC Midtjylland (DEN)

FW Reda Slim (MAR)- Transfer from ASFAR Rabat (MAR)

DF Khaled Abdelfattah (EGY)- Transfer from Smouha (EGY)

Departures

MF Hamdi Fathi (EGY)- Transfer to Al-Wakra (QAT)

FW Mohamed Sherif (EGY)- Transfer to Al-Khaleej (KSA)

FW Hossam Hassan (EGY)- Transfer to Smouha (EGY)

MF Bruno Sávio (BRA)- Transfer to Club Bolivár (BOL)

FW Shady Hussein (EGY)- Transfer to ZED FC (EGY)

MF Ahmed Kendouci (DZA)- Loan to Ceramica Cleopatra (EGY)

DF Ayman Ashraf (EGY)- Free transfer to Bank Al Ahly (EGY)

GK Ali Lotfi (EGY)- Free transfer to ZED FC (EGY)

FW Luís Miquissone (MOZ)- Free transfer to Simba SC (TZA)

Head Coach- Marcel Koller

After two seasons without an Egyptian Premier League title, a long drought by Al Ahly’s high standards, the Swiss tactician arrived with a decorated CV and continues to meet expectations. Previously an excellent midfielder during his playing days with Grasshoppers Club Zürich and the Swiss national team, Koller shot to prominence as a manager by winning the Swiss Super League title with St. Gallen before moving to Grasshoppers and winning the title again (2002-03 season) to give his beloved club the record for most top division titles in Swiss football.

Koller’s Al Ahly team attempts to impose themselves on the opposition with high pressing and an emphasis on possession in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation. When playing at their best, Ahly tend to overwhelm their opponents with an industrious midfield and dynamic attack that features plenty of pace and constant attacking runs off the ball.

Goalkeeping

Now in his eighth season at the club, Egypt national team number one Mohamed El Shenawy continues to be a reliable presence in the goal for Al Ahly and will lead the club as their captain. The 34-year-old from Kafr El Sheikh is a club legend and rarely commits mistakes while making timely saves in crucial matches. In a country that has a history of excellent goalkeeping in African football, El Shenawy has earned his place in the same discussion as legends like Essam El Hadary.

The deputy to El Shenawy will be Mostafa Shobeir, a son of Ahly goalkeeping legend and well known Egyptian television pundit Ahmed Shobeir. The younger Shobeir did well in the final of the 2022-23 CAF Champions League when injuries to El Shenawy and backup Ali Lotfi required him to take part in the 2-1 first leg victory over Morocco’s Wydad AC.

Defense

Mohamed Abdelmonem is a fierce central defender whose rise to stardom is the result of his ability to perform well in important matches

In front of El Shenawy is a defense that is known for its consistency and stability. Central defender Mohamed Abdelmonem is now an important player for his club and the Egypt national team ever since the 24-year-old established himself with Egypt during their run to the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations final. Abdelmonem, on loan to fellow Egyptian club Future FC at the time, was called back to Ahly and put his name into club folklore with a late winning goal against Wydad in the 1-1 second leg draw in last season’s CAF Champions League final. Either Yasser Ibrahim or Ramy Rabia will partner Abdelmonem in the center.

The fullbacks are another important piece of Koller’s team. Egypt national team member Mohamed Hany is staying healthy on the right flank and Tunisia national team left back Ali Maâloul is a beloved veteran who is in his eighth season at the club. Both possess good technical ability when moving forward and Maâloul is a reliable set piece and penalty kick expert.

Midfield

New signing Emam Ashour (left) and Mali national team player Aliou Dieng (right) are crucial in the center of the Al Ahly midfield.

With the departure of Hamdi Fathi to the Middle East and continuing injury problems with veteran Amr El Solia, Aliou Dieng is the one member from last season whose place is guaranteed in the Ahly midfield. The Malian who built his reputation with home club Djoliba and Algeria’s MC Alger is important to the modern style of play of Ahly because he fulfills his defensive duties and also pushes forward to act as a link between the midfield and attack. Dieng is joined by new signing Emam Ashour, a former star of Ahly rivals Zamalek who arrived after a brief spell in Danish football. Ashour will be given more freedom to push forward where he can use his excellent technical skill.

Other contributors in the Ahly midfield include Marwan Attia, a deep-lying and efficient midfielder. Mohamed Magdy “Afsha” is a central attacking playmaker who can also drop deeper but his role has declined recently along with Attia. After Attia made a costly mistake in Ahly’s 1-0 CAF Super Cup final defeat to Algeria’s USM Alger, Koller is utilizing young Ahmed Kouka in his eleven more following impressive performances at the 2023 U-23 Africa Cup of Nations over the summer.

Forwards

South African attacker Percy Tau and forward Kahraba are important parts of an energetic Al Ahly attack that puts constant pressure on opposing defenses

The attack is where Al Ahly struggled during their two-year Egyptian Premier League title drought before Koller arrived but last season saw things come together in harmony. Former Mamelodi Sundowns star Percy Tau overcame the departure of mentor and Koller’s predecessor Pitso Mosimane to deliver his best season at the club in the 2022-23 campaign and already has four goals in two league matches this season playing on the wing. On the opposite wing is Hussein El Shahat, a player regained the trust of Ahly supporters last season and continues to improve his consistency.

However, there are a couple of new arrivals who have the potential to make a massive difference. Up top at the striker position, Ahly supporters are eagerly anticipating the contributions of French forward Anthony Modeste following the 35-year-old’s arrival after a long, productive career in European football. Moroccan forward Reda Slim is impressing after the 21-year-old arrived from ASFAR Rabat and he brings impressive pace and versatility. Modeste appears to be a doubt for the first leg against Simba due to illness which means that the energetic Kahraba is likely to replace the Frenchman after scoring thirteen goals in all competitions last season.

Prognosis

As the reigning African club champions, Al Ahly are certainly the favorites to win the inaugural African Football League. Under coach Koller the Cairo club are back to full strength and the signings of Modeste, Ashour and Reda Slim are already looking like excellent acquisitions. Followers of African football will be anticipating a potential semifinal duel between Ahly and South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns, a clash that could very well determine the winner of the competition.

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