Friday’s African Champions League final in Cairo between Egyptian giants Al Ahly and Zamalek will be the first between rivals from the same country.
It will also be the first to be decided by one match rather than over two legs since the first final in 1965.
The match will be played in an empty stadium under the slogan “no to fanaticism”.
It once again brings together two clubs whose clashes have long dominated local and continental competitions.
Ahly have won the Champions League eight times and been crowned Egyptian Premier League champions on 42 occasions while Zamalek have won the premier African club competition five times and have been Egyptian champions on 12 occasions.
The decision not to permit spectators at the 74,000-capacity Cairo International Stadium came in a joint statement by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and the Egyptian Football Federation (EFA).
Referring to the coronavirus pandemic, they said “their top priority was to ensure the safety of Egyptian and African football families”.
Besides health concerns, the historic rivalry between Ahly and Zamalek raised fears of clashes between supporters.
Instead fans are set to be able to watch the match on television in clubs or youth centres, but not in cafes and public places.
“Ahly and Zamalek are like brothers and, unfortunately, the fanaticism is only among fans,” said retired Zamalek and Egypt star Hazem Emam.
Covid-19 has affected both teams with Ahly’s Walid Soliman, Mahmoud ‘Kahraba’ Abdelmoneim and Saleh Gomaa and Zamalek’s Mahmoud ‘El Wensh’ Hamdy and assistant coach Medhat Abdelhady contracting the disease.
Former star Emam says Ahly have switched to “collective football” since South African coach Pitso Mosimane arrived in September, while Zamalek’s recently hired Portuguese coach Jaime Pacheco has changed little.
Mosimane knows what it takes to beat Zamalek in a final after he guided his former club, Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa, to a 3-1 aggregate victory in 2016.
Those he will rely on include goalkeeper Mohamed el Shennawy, Mohamed ‘Afsha’ Magdy, Tunisian Ali Maaloul, Malian Aliou Dieng and Nigerian Junior Ajayi.
“Mosimane has freed the players from restrictions imposed by former coaches, which tips the scales in his players’ favour against Zamalek’s players and their individual skills, especially (Achraf) Bencharki and Ferjani Sassi,” said Ahly’s Walid Salaheldin.
The South African is aiming to be just the third coach to win the title with two different clubs.
Egypt’s Mahmoud El Gohary won it with both Ahly (1982) and Zamalek (1993) while Argentine Oscar Fullone lifted the trophy with Ivory Coast’s Asec Mimosas in 1998 and just a year later with Morocco’s Raja Casablanca.
Pacheco, who returned to Zamalek six years after first coaching the White Knights, said he trusted his players, their strong personalities and ability “to please the fans”.
Zamalek stars include veteran Tarek Hamed, Tunisian Sassi, Moroccan Bencharki, Ahmed ‘Zizou’ Sayed and Mostafa Mohammed.
Ahly reached the Champions League final by defeating Wydad Casablanca of Morocco 2-0 away and 3-1 at home while Zamalek overcame the other Casablanca giants, Raja, 1-0 away and 3-1 at home.
The Cairo clubs faced off in the Champions League on eight occasions with Ahly winning five matches and the other three drawn.
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