Last year, Egypt’s Zamalek were on the verge of staging a remarkable comeback in the African Confederation Cup, only to falter at the end. They find themselves in a similar situation this year, with a much-awaited Champions League triumph looking implausible.
Zamalek, who host South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns in Alexandria on Sunday, are retaining a glimmer of hope to overturn a 3-0 first-leg deficit after being outplayed in a night to forget in Pretoria last week.
The away defeat was a bitter reminder of the team’s defensive frailties which almost cost them in the semi final when they conceded five goals at Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca in the second leg, only to sneak through 6-5 on aggregate after making the most of their counter-attacking abilities to score twice in Rabat.
They failed to net an away goal against Sundowns though and will be cautious not to ship any more goals that would render their mission almost impossible at Alexandria’s 86,000-seat Borg El-Arab Stadium.
Zamalek’s coach Moemen Soliman, who is eyeing his second trophy at the helm after helping the team win the Egypt Cup at the expense of arch rivals Ahly, said it would be “almost a miracle” to snatch the coveted Champions League title.
But he can take heart from a spirited display under Portuguese boss Jesualdo Ferreira last year.
Having suffered a stunning 5-1 loss at Tunisia’s Etoile Sahel in the first leg of the Confederation Cup semi-final, Zamalek scored three goals without reply in the second leg to come within a whisker of an unprecedented comeback. They could not notch the decisive winner though.
Zamalek will be boosted by huge fan support against Sundowns. Many supporters posted pictures of themselves on social media holding signs that read: “We can do it”.
“I just ask the fans to be patient. We can score anytime throughout the game,” Soliman told the pre-match news conference.
“I don’t have magical powers that can help us overturn the deficit but I can promise that we will fight and do our best. We will not repeat the mistakes of the first leg.”