JOHANNESBURG: A blunder-prone goalkeeper and the loss of star attackers have added to the problems confronting Al Ahly coach Martin Jol ahead of a must-win CAF Champions League clash this weekend.
The Egyptian and African giants host Group A leaders Wydad Casablanca from Morocco Saturday desperate for maximum points after a disastrous start to the mini-league phase.
Pre-season favorites for a record-extending ninth title, the Cairo Red Devils fell 3-2 away to Zesco United of Zambia and 2-1 at home to ASEC Mimosas of the Ivory Coast.
Repeated mistakes by experienced national team goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy contributed to the defeats, with his worst error gifting ASEC victory in Mediterranean city Alexandria.
“Sherif failed to do his job,” was the blunt assessment of Jol, a 60-year-old Dutchman who managed Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League.
“Goalkeeping is one of the positions that we need to reinforce,” he said prophetically.
True to his word, Jol signed Petrojet shot-stopper Mohamed El Shennawy on a five-year contract after demoting Ekramy and promoting understudy Ahmed Adel.
Jol, who broke his championship duck as a coach by guiding Ahly to the Egyptian Premier League title this month, recently raved about attackers Ramadan Sobhy and Malick Evouna.
But neither will face former African champions Wydad as teenager Sobhy is moving to Stoke City and Gabonese Evouna to Chinese Super League outfit Tianjin Teda.
History is stacked against Ahly securing a top-two finish and a semi-finals place in a competition offering a $1.5 million (1.35 million euros) first prize and a ticket to the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup.
Only one of 120 clubs — USM Alger of Algeria in 2003 — have reached the semi-finals after losing their first and second mini-league matches.
While Wydad travel to Egypt buoyant after wins away to ASEC and at home to Zesco, captain Brahim Nekkach is wary of wounded Ahly.
“There has been a dip in the form of Ahly, but they are desperate for three points so it will not be an easy game for us,” warned the midfielder.
Ahly and Wydad met in the 2011 group stage, drawing 3-3 in Cairo and 1-1 in Casablanca. The Egyptians failed to reach the semi-finals while the Moroccans went on to finish runners-up.
Zesco boast a perfect four-win home record in the Champions League this season, which they hope to extend Saturday by defeating ASEC in copper region city Ndola.
But the Abidjan club, whose lone Champions League title came 18 years ago, have excelled in away matches this year, winning three of four.
Zamalek of Egypt host Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa Sunday in the lone Group B fixture with Enyimba of Nigeria receiving a bye after Entente Setif of Algeria were booted out over crowd trouble.
The Cairo White Knights are the only unbeaten side in the competition and favoured to win despite tiredness as a fixture-saturated domestic season draws to a close.
Former English Premier League manager Alex McLeish was among four coaches sacked during the campaign by a club now guided by Mohammed Helmy, twice a Champions League winner as a player.
Sundowns were eliminated in the final qualifying round only to get a second chance when V Club of the Democratic Republic of Congo were disqualified for fielding an ineligible player.