By Sahan Bidappa/Doha
In October last year, Sabri Lamouchi quietly slipped into his second coaching stint with Al Duhail. This was just days after the reigning QNB Stars League winners were knocked out of the AFC Champions League in the group phase itself. With their performance dropping to alarming levels under Walid Regragui, the Duhail management went back to Lamouchi, with the Frenchman having tasted a good amount of success during his first reign with the club.
While Lamouchi has failed to stop the Al Sadd juggernaut in the league, with the Red Knights trailing their bitter rivals by a whopping 13 points, Duhail have settled nicely under the 49-year-old and have eked out some impressive results recently. Today though, Lamouchi will face his toughest test as Duhail take on African champions Al Ahly in the FIFA Club World Cup at the Education City Stadium at 8.30pm.
The Qatari champions received a bye into the second round when their scheduled first-round opponents, New Zealand side Auckland City, pulled out of the tournament due to the nation’s coronavirus restrictions.
The Red Knights will be making their debut in the competition and they could not have asked for a tougher opposition in Al Ahly. Widely regarded as world football’s most decorated club, Al Ahly SC have been a dominant force in Egyptian and African football, with their success earning them the accolade of ‘Club of the Century’ from the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
The Cairo-based outfit will be making their sixth appearance at a FIFA Club World Cup after defeating arch-rivals Zamalek SC 2-1 in the 2020 CAF Champions League final. Their best finish in the competition was third at Japan 2006.
Al Ahly will also be able to call upon their fans for support at the Education City Stadium, with the huge Egyptian diaspora rallying behind them. Lamouchi is well aware of Al Ahly’s strength, but said he and his players were excited for the match – especially with European powerhouse Bayern Munich awaiting them in the semi-finals.
“We have had a good preparation period for this tournament, especially since we will face a strong and dangerous team. We are very excited about this match,” he said yesterday.
“We strive to present our best against Al Ahly. We know that the match will not be easy as we are facing a team that has great successes in Africa and has a number of goods players. They will also have lot of their fans in the stands, but it is a challenge in an exceptional competition,” he added.
Duhail’s recent good run is thanks to Dudu and Edmilson, with the duo forming a lethal partnership in attack. They also have new striker Michael Olunga, who scored a hat-trick in Duhail’s win over Al Ahli in the last 16 of the Amir Cup. Coached by former South African international Pitso Mosimane, Al Ahly’s current squad includes Egyptian international goalkeeper and club captain Mohamed El Shenawy and left-back Ali Maaloul, who was in Tunisia’s FIFA World Cup squad at Russia 2018. Mali international Aliou Dieng is a promising defensive midfielder, while Mohamed Magdy was Al Ahly’s hero when he scored the winning goal in last November’s CAF Champions League final.
“We came here because we are the African Champions. We have great confidence in ourselves and we aim to reach our maximum levels in the competition,” said Mosimane yesterday. “We respect Al Duhail a lot, as they have many good players and they have won the QNB Stars League. Also, they will play at their homeland and among their fans, besides that, they have many good foreign players. The game will not be easy, but I have full confidence in my players and we will do our best to meet their high expectations.”
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