Koller confident in Al Ahly’s depth despite key players' absence

By Guardian Correspondent , The Guardian
Published at 11:07 AM Mar 29 2024
 Ahly head coach Marcel Koller
Photo: Guardian Correspondents
Ahly head coach Marcel Koller

SIMBA SC is gearing up for a monumental clash as they face off against Al Ahly in the quarter-finals of the CAF Champions League.

Scheduled to kick off at 9 pm East African time at the Benjamin Mkapa Stadium in Dar es Salaam, this encounter marks the seventh meeting between the two teams in the last six years.

Al Ahly’s head coach Marcel Koller anticipated a challenging encounter, acknowledging the various factors at play.

“I know it will be a very difficult game due to different reasons, such as the weather. However, as Al Ahly, we have diligently prepared for this match, and we are confident of securing a favorable result before the return leg in Egypt,” Koller noted.

Recognizing Simba SC as a formidable opponent, Koller emphasized the Msimbazi Street squad's prowess.

The Swiss gaffer said: “Simba SC is a top-level team in Africa, and despite playing on their home turf, we are well-prepared and determined to achieve a positive outcome.”

Commenting on the absence of key players Emam Ashour, Aliou Dieng, and Mohamed El Shenawy, Koller expressed confidence in the depth of his squad.

Koller revealed: “While these players are integral to our team, we have capable replacements in every department. I believe the players who get their chance will showcase their abilities and contribute to the team’s success in this crucial encounter.”

Ahead of the showdown, Simba SC’s head coach, Abdelhak Benchikha, expressed his anticipation, stating: “Today’s match is a very big game between these two teams. I expect good things from the Simba SC team because we have prepared enough and everything is for this game.”

The gaffer pointed out: “The players are ready, morale is high, and I have emphasized to them the importance of playing without fear and anxiety.”

He reflected on his past encounter with Al Ahly while serving as the head coach of USM Alger in the CAF Super Cup, which ended with his outfit coming out victorious.

Benchikha noted: “That game was just one match, but this CAF Champions League quarterfinal consists of home and away fixtures. I will utilize my experience to ensure that we secure victory as Simba SC and make history for the club.”

Addressing the significance of previous results between Simba SC and Al Ahly, Benchikha emphasized, “Football yields various outcomes, and while we’ve faced Al Ahly multiple times in recent years, the past results hold little relevance now.”

“We acknowledge that Al Ahly is a formidable opponent, but we are equally well-prepared.”

Regarding the absence of certain players from the camp during preparations in Zanzibar, Benchikha remarked: “Ideally, I wanted all players to be present for camp preparation. However, all my players, including those absent, understand our objectives for this game and are aligned with our game plan.”

He expressed his desire for a commanding performance in the home leg, maintaining it is important to capitalize on home advantage.

The gaffer added: “I aim for us to score multiple goals, especially in this home fixture, as it provides a significant edge for any team.”

Five months prior, Simba SC and Al Ahly faced off in the latest edition of the African Football League, with the initial match held at Benjamin Stadium Mkapa on October 21 last year resulting in a 2-2 draw.

The subsequent encounter on October 24 also ended in a 1-1 draw, with Al Ahly advancing based on the away-goal rule.

Their history extends further back to the group stages of the 2018/19 season, where both teams progressed to the quarterfinals.

Al Ahly led the group, with Simba SC securing advancement to the knockouts despite a 5-0 defeat away and a 1-0 win at home.

In the 2020/21 season’s group stage, each team secured a 1-0 victory at home, with Simba SC once again leading the group standings.

As anticipation mounts for the highly anticipated clash between Simba SC and Al Ahly, both teams are poised to deliver a thrilling display of Benjamin Mkapaas they vie for a coveted spot in the next stage of the CAF Champions League.