The pride of Pretoria won all their home games in this season’s Champions League
THE picture of Al-Ahly stretching in the Union Buildings park, with the country’s official seat of the national government in the background, told a story worth more than a thousand words.
It was an iconic moment, capturing the team that has won more trophies than any other side in world football as they prepare to add to that glittering list of achievements.
Al-Ahly will take on Mamelodi Sundowns on Saturday in the second leg of the CAF Champions League quarter-finals at Lucas Moripe Stadium. With the Egyptian league in their control, the Red Devils want to conquer the continent for a record ninth time.
But first, they must conquer South Africa by beating the team from the country’s capital who are an important part of Pretoria, like the Union Buildings. Sundowns trail Al-Ahly 2-0 after they were outplayed and outclassed in the first leg in Cairo.
The return leg will be a different story, however, with Sundowns a different team when they play at home.
The pride of Pretoria won all their home games in this season’s Champions League.
It’s a record that has the club confident that they can somehow pull the rabbit out of the hat and get the better of the eight-time African champions.
But it won’t be easy because Al-Ahly isn’t just any team, and with the history that these two clubs have – they will be even tougher.
Al-Ahly beat Sundowns to win the 2001 Champions League final. Almost two decades later, Sundowns got their revenge by embarrassing Al-Ahly 5-0 in last year’s quarter-finals. The Egyptians want to make up for that shock defeat by eliminating the Brazilians at the same stage.
The Red Devils are masters of Champions League football.
Their crest, with plenty of stars to celebrate their eight Champions League wins and 42 league titles, is indicative of that.
They set the benchmark when it comes to continental success due to their high ambitions.
For them, losing in the final of the Champions League is failure and a fireable offence for the coach.
The high standards they set for themselves is what brings about results. They are also financially strong which means that they can get any player they want – regardless of which part of the world they are from or based in – and more importantly they can keep their star players.
Sundowns will be up against it on Saturday.
Al-Ahly arrived early in the country to acclimatise, play a friendly with Orlando Pirates and then seek to reach the semi-finals.
They looked at home when they stretched in front of the Union Buildings.
They looked like a team that was not only ready for a fight, but to also conquer South Africa by strutting their stuff in front of a place that’s a symbol of the country.
Sundowns, in a way, are a symbol of South Africa as their exploits have put them on the map through their consistency and becoming a key player in Champions League football.
On Saturday they will face their toughest challenge against a team that has broken many South African hearts in the past.