Al Ahly set for emotional return in Champions League

By Richard FlemingBBC Sport
Al-Ahly players flee the pitch in Port Said
Al Ahly players race from the riots which claimed 74 lives

The Egyptian side Al Ahly make a return to football this Sunday, for the first time since 74 people died after a league match last month.

Ahly face Coffee of Ethiopia in an African Champions League second round, first leg tie in Addis Ababa.

The six-times African champions have not played a competitive match since the tragedy in Port Said on 1 February.

But they have pledged to win the Champions League to honour those fans who died.

To maintain their competitive edge, Egypt's leading club has been forced to play a series of matches in the United Arab Emirates.

Such is the concern over security, that Ahly has not even been allowed to play friendly matches at home.

Ahly board member Khaled Mortagey told BBC Sport: "I think this is the most difficult situation we have ever seen.

"The impact is huge, not only on the Ahly players but on the sporting mood. After the tragedy, Egyptian sport stopped until now."

Ahly coach, Manuel Jose, has injury worries ahead of their first leg encounter, which will be played at the national stadium in Ethiopia's capital, 2,400m above sea level.

Veteran players Wael Gomaa and Emad Moteab are unlikely to feature. There are also doubts surrounding Mohamed Barakat, Mohamed Nagy and Dominique da Silva.

Coffee overcame Coin Noir Mitsamiouli of Comoros in the previous round.

Elsewhere, Tunisian giants Esperance begin the defence of their title with a trip to Brikama United of The Gambia in the first leg.

Esperance of Tunisia celebrate winning the African Champions League in 2011
Esperance were Champions League winners in 2011

Esperance's Swiss coach, Michel Decastel, admits his side must be wary of this weekend's opposition.

"We don't know the team but we know that the Gambia's youth teams have been African champions in the past," he said. "And that The Gambia beat Tunisia in Tunis in 2010. So we have to be careful."

Esperance are one of a number of leading sides which enter the competition at the second round stage.

Decastel insists that his team will not underestimate Brikama, as they bid for back-to-back success.

He said: "The African Champions League is very important because we are the defending champions and we don't want to give up that title.

"So, this round is difficult, but we'll respect our opponents, not fear them, and we'll play to qualify."

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