Can Sunshine Scale Ahly’s Hurdle?


For Nigeria’s remaining representatives in the ongoing Confederation of Africa Football, CAF Champions League, Sunshine Stars of Akure to qualify for the final, they would have their hands full when they play in Cairo, Egypt, this weekend.

Sunshine Stars of Nigeria, Al Ahly of Egypt, Esperance of Tunisia and TP Mazembe of DR Congo are the four teams that qualified for the semi final stage of this year’s Champions League.

While defending champions Esperance and former champions TP Mazembe are to play each other in one of the semi final fixtures, Sunshine Stars would confront six times champions Al Ahly of Egypt.

When both teams met in the first leg of the semi final match at the Dipo Dina International Stadium in Ijebu Ode, Ogun State less than two weeks ago, the pulsating match ended 3-3.

This result makes the return leg in Cairo delicate for Sunshine Stars going by the fact that Al Ahly’s home record against African clubs at crucial stages of continental tournaments have always been in their favour and tough for the visitors.

Interestingly, Al Ahly, who were recently named by CAF as the most successful club of the 20th century on the African continent, relied on home advantage to win their first continental title in 1982 against Asante Kotoko of Ghana.

The Egyptian giants, led by their current chairman Hassan Hamdy, lost the first leg of the final match in Kumasi by 1-1, but won the return leg 3-1 in Cairo to lift the maiden continental trophy.

Another factor that would make the return leg in Cairo a difficult battle for the ‘Akure Gunners’, as Sunshine Stars are popularly called by their fans, is the fact that the Al Ahly team is made up of mostly players of the Egyptian national team.

These are players that can boast of over fifty international caps and have played at the highest level of African football, both at club and national team levels. The likes of Mohamed Aboutrika, Mohamed Barakat, Wael Gomaal, Emad Meteb, Mohamed Wahab and former Tottenham midfielder, Hossam Ghaly are players that can wreak havoc on the opposition.

Related News

The return of Ahly’s deadly striker Meteb after undergoing surgery recently should also be a cause for concern for Sunshine Stars’ backline after they conceded three goals in the first leg.

Another factor that could work against Sunshine on Sunday is the fitness of their players. It was evident in the first leg in Ijebu Ode that most of Sunshine defenders were flat-footed as they could not match the pace of the Egyptian strikers. Many football pundits had attributed the recess in the domestic football league for the drop in fitness level of the players. This cannot be said of the Egyptian league that is currently going on.

Despite all the hurdles that might stand in the way of Sunshine Stars, they also have their own strong points.

Going by the Ondo state-owned club’s away form in the tournament, no one would dare write them off yet. Sunshine Stars recorded a valuable 2-1 away victory against ASO Chlef of Algeria in their last group match, a result that proved crucial to their qualification for the semi final  from Group B ahead of the Algerian side after Etoile Sportif du Sahel of Tunisia were disqualified by CAF.

Also, the fact that the second leg match would be played under closed doors in Cairo stadium would give Sunshine Stars a ray of hope. They should be able to capitalise on the absence of the vociferous Egyptian crowd that has worked against so many teams in the past.

The return of Sunshine Stars captain, Godfrey Oboabona to the backline, after a card suspension prevented him from the first leg, should restore some confidence to the porous defence they paraded less than two weeks ago.

Coach Gbenga Ogunbote of Sunshine Stars in his post-match speech after the first leg match said: ‘‘It is not over yet for my team. We will go to Cairo to create upset.”

 —Bamidele Olowosagba

Load more