Ahly are seeking their sixth Champions League crown
Al Ahly host Cotonsport in Cairo on Sunday in the first leg of this year's Champions League final hoping to win the tournament for a record sixth time.
Although overwhelming favourites to lift the trophy for a fourth time this decade, the 'Red Devils' will be extremely wary after a totally unexpected climax to the previous edition.
Considered certainties to overtake fellow five-time winners Zamalek of Egypt after forcing a 0-0 first-leg draw at Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia last year, Ahly came horribly unstuck at home to lose the second leg 3-1.
Angry home supporters then vented their fury by hurling missiles and abuse at the Ahly players when they collected their runners-up medals.
But a year later Ahly are back in the showpiece of African club football against opponents no one outside the dusty north Cameroon cotton town of Garoua gave a chance of going so far.
And why would they? After all, Cotonsport had played seven times in the Champions League without getting past the three-round qualifying phase.
Then there is pedigree. Ahly have a 102-year history laden with
African and domestic honours.
Cotonsport, meanwhile, are just 22 years old and their best achievement was reaching the final of the now defunct Caf Cup in 2003.
Household names is another area that illustrates the chasm between the adversaries with Ahly supplying five Egyptian and two Angolans for the 2008 African Nations Cup while no Cotonsport footballer made it to Ghana.
Ahly superstars like silky midfielders Mohamed Aboutraika and
Mohamed Barakat and Angola-born goal predator Flavio Amado are
instantly recognisable far from their Cairo base.
But no one outside Cameroon and his native Niger knew of Daouda
Kamilou until his seven-goal haul in the Champions League this year
lifted a veil of international obscurity.
And while Egyptian clubs Ahly and Zamalek are virtual perennial
contenders for the Champions League title, Cameroon will be
featuring in the final for the first time since Canon Yaounde triumphed 28 years ago.
Ahly also score when it comes to coaching stability with Portugal's Manuel Jose ruling the roost for most of this decade.
Cotonsport have had many incumbents during the same period with
the latest man in the hot seat, Ivorian Alain Ouombleon, taking over
only after the initial mini-league round in mid-year.
But a major advantage for Cotonsport is that no one beyond Cameroon believes they can shock Ahly, which lifts most of the pressure weighing heavily on their rivals.
Jose admitted that the expectations of success-spoilt Ahly fans
can trigger nerves among his players, saying they often perform
better away from a Cairo Stadium fortress expected to attract a
sell-out 70,000 crowd on Sunday.
The winners will walk away with US$1m in prize money and a place beside European champions Manchester United at the Fifa Club World Cup in Japan.
The return match is set for 16 November in Garoua.
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