JOHANNESBURG // Mrisho Ngasa, a West Ham United reject, will receive special attention when Al Ahly begin the hunt for a record third consecutive CAF Champions League title this weekend.
Ngasa, who had unsuccessful 2009 trials with the English Premier League club, scored a hat-trick in each leg when Tanzanians Young Africans went on a 12-goal preliminary-round romp.
But after bagging six goals against international rookies Komorozine from the Comoros Islands, the 24-year-old son of a former Tanzania midfielder must face the defensively tight Egyptians.
Wael Gomaa, the 38-year-old back-four marshal of the Cairo Red Devils, was included in the squad for the last-32 clash in Dar es Salaam after announcing he will retire this year.
Goalkeeper Sherif Ekrami, another star following in the footsteps of his father, and full-backs Ahmed Fathy and Sayed Moawad are battle-hardened African campaigners.
Apart from Ngasa, Ahly will be wary of Burundian Didier Kavumbagu and Ugandan Hamis Kiiza, who each netted twice against the outclassed Comorans.
Ahly overcame poor domestic form to defeat Tunisian visitors CS Sfaxien 3-2 last week to win a CAF Super Cup thriller soured by post-match clashes between Egyptian supporters and police.
The result eased pressure on coach Mohamed Youssef, whose side has been hard hit by the retirements last year of midfield icons Mohamed Abou Trika and Mohamed Barakat.
“They were key players,” Youssef told reporters. “Injuries have not helped us either and contributed heavily to the national league losses.”
Veteran, injury-prone striker Emad Moteab has shaken off a hamstring problem and could face the Tanzanians beside young two-goal Super Cup star Amr Gamal.
Young Africans Dutch coach Hans van der Pluijm knows Ahly having been in charge of Ghanaians Berekum Chelsea when they drew and lost against them in the 2012 Champions League.
“Ahly are very strong and know how to play these qualifiers,” he told reporters, “but we do not fear them and will do everything to qualify for the next round.”
Ahly are among eight Champions League title contenders who have lifted the trophy with compatriots Zamalek having home advantage over Angolans Kabuscorp.
Zamalek won the last of five titles 12 years ago and face rivals bolstered by the signing of Democratic Republic of Congo playmaker Tresor Mputu.
Nigerians Enyimba, champions in 2003 and 2004, also play at home first and should prove too strong for modest Malians Real Bamako.
It will be a shock if 1988 title-holders Entente Setif of Algeria did not triumph against visiting Burkinabe outfit ASFA Yennenga, who are regular but generally unsuccessful CAF campaigners.
Tunisians Esperance, Congolese TP Mazembe and Moroccans Raja Casablanca are former champions who pose potential threats to the hat-trick ambitions of Ahly.
Esperance start in Kenya against Gor Mahia, a side indebted to goalkeeper Jerim Onyango for reaching the first round after he saved two penalties away to Gabonese Bitam.
Scottish coach Bobby Williamson has reminded his players that the Nairobi club achieved the seemingly impossible against Esperance in 1987 by winning the African Cup Winners Cup final.
Mazembe face Astres Douala in Cameroon, Raja tackle Horoya in Guinea and 1973 African champions Vita, the second DR Congo challengers, are away to Zimbabweans Dynamos.
Matches are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday with the return fixtures one week later and the 16 aggregate winners enter the final qualifying round.
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