Celtic v Al Ahly, Wembley Cup, July 24, 2009
Egyptian champions Al Ahly come to the Wembley Cup with bags of expectations from home fans and the club’s management alike. It is a tough period for the African club of the century â€“ legendary Portuguese coach Manuel Jose has left the club to coach the Angola national team, and the team’s main striker in recent years, Angolan Flavio Amado, left in a mega-deal to join Saudi Arabian outfit Al Shabab.
New coach Hossam Al Badri has introduced a major and surprising change to the team â€“ the transformation from the widely popular 3-5-2 formation with a sweeper behind two centre-backs, to the 4-4-2 formation. It is clear that the Ahly players are yet to adjust to the new formation, but veteran skipper Ahmed Hassan is confident of the team’s ability to implement the new strategy: “We are not unfamiliar with that formation, as the technical staff employed it in several games last season.”
Amir Abdul Hamid has returned to wear the number 1 jersey instead of talented Palestinian custodian Ramzi Saleh, who ousted Abdul Hamid from his position during last season. Abdul Hamid is a goalie with good reflexes, but is also error-prone and he is one of the weakest players in the side.
Ahly’s defence is comprised of many talented players. Centre-backs Ahmed El Sayed and Weal Gomaa are both solid defenders, as well as the young Mohamed Samir. Sayed Moawad is extremely dangerous with his speed on the left-wing, and on the right Ahly have the excellent Ahmed Fathy and also Ahmed Sedik who is a fairly talented player. (Al Ahly are 10/3 to keep a clean sheet.)
The Red Devils also have fine midfielders such as veteran Ahmed Hassan, hot-prospects Hossam Ashour and Moataz Eno, and talented Qatari winger Hussein Yasser. On the left Angolan international Gilberto is the best crosser of the ball on the African continent. And above all is of course playmaker Mohamed Abu Treika (9/1 to score first), who is the most important player in the team.
Ahly’s attack is not as strong as in previous years. Ahmed Belal (talented but problematic) and Hani Al Egeizi (talented but unstable), who didn’t play much last season, will now have to play a bigger role. Osama Hosni is a reliable player, but far from being impressive. So much will depend on new Liberian import Francis Doe Forkey, who may have his debut for Ahly at Wembley.
Tony Mowbrayâ€™s Celtic will see this game as a fine opportunity for a tune-up ahead of next Wednesdayâ€™s third-round Champions League qualifier against Dynamo Moscow. Celtic drew 0-0 with Cardiff in a friendly on Wednesday night and it will be intriguing to see their progress this season having lost Japanese talisman Sunsuke Nakamura.
New signing Landry Nâ€™Guemo (pictured) provides a physical edge in midfield and could star in the SPL this season whilst Marc-Antoine Fortune (9/2 to score first) showed his quality in a struggling team at the back end of the 2008/2009 Premier League season.
Celtic may have their eye on the game with Spurs on Sunday and then the Champions League qualifier but Al Ahly have some good players, not least Abu Treika who was a class act at the Confederations Cup.
101predicts: Celtic 1 – Al Ahly 1 (11/2)
Full match odds here.