The credentials of perennial Cairo rivals Ahly and Zamalek face an early test as they clash in the Egyptian Super Cup in Abu Dhabi on Friday, with both looking to draw first blood to gain a psychological advantage for the new season.
Both have made convincing starts to the new campaign, grabbing two wins from as many games in what is likely to be a traditional two-horse race for the Egyptian Premier League.
Ahly, reeling from a disappointing 2021-22 season, are eyeing a fresh start while Zamalek are looking to assert their authority from the outset.
Their most recent meeting saw Zamalek outplay Ahly in a 2-1 victory in the Egypt Cup final in July as they completed a domestic double, having also pipped their traditional foes to the league title for a second consecutive season.
But Ahly can take pride in a glorious history which suggests that such a dip in form cannot take hold for long, with new Swiss coach Marcel Koller vowing to go after every single title.
“We have many experienced players who played a big number of such high-profile clashes,” Ahly’s assistant coach Sami Komsan said.
“These players will have a vital role to play during the Super Cup.”
Zamalek are banking on the shrewd tactics of canny Portuguese coach Jesualdo Ferreira to get one over Ahly, even though they are sorely missing the spark of Moroccan winger Achraf Bencharki, who departed at the end of last season after his contract had expired.
In Bencharki’s absence, the White Knights have struggled for clear-cut chances in the early stages of this term but they remained solid at the back as Ferreira looks to be more focused on tightening up at the back.
Senegalese forward Ibrahima Ndiaye, the man entrusted to fill Bencharki’s boots, is unavailable through injury, as is key central defender Mahmoud El-Wensh, who is facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
Ahly’s most notable absentee is burly Malian midfielder Aliou Dieng, who sustained a hamstring injury in his team’s 1-0 league win over Aswan last Sunday.
The Red Devils are the record Egyptian Super Cup winners with 11 titles, followed by Zamalek on four.
Both sides have met seven times in the annual one-game competition, with Ahly winning five games and Zamalek two.