The realization that Al-Ahly Sports Club were in town would normally send a chill down the spine of any team, particularly around this part of the world.
Al-Ahly are not only the record eight time African champions, but Uganda has usually been a good hunting ground for the Egyptian champions as far as club football is concerned.
Yet, that history did not seem to bother KCCA FC (Al-Ahly’s opponents today,Tuesday in the Caf Champions League) manager Mike Mutebi. While speaking during the pre-match press conference on Monday afternoon at Namboole stadium, the venue for the clash, Mutebi said with a straight face, eyes widened, that they were raring to go against Africa’s greatest team.
“No question we respect Al-Ahly but we are not intimidated by their stature at all. We see this game against them as an opportunity to grow as a team. Of course we are under-dogs, we cannot run away from that. But our young team is looking forward to the challenge, playing our way, which is beautiful football,” Mutebi said.
Mutebi said all this while flanked by his starlet Allan Okello, who appeared to conform with his gaffer’s views. Okello said that they have been working hard all along for such games, “and if we play as well as we can, victory is ours,” he added.
In fact, even when the press kept pushing Mutebi into the corner, suggesting that Al-Ahly was a tougher opponent than the previous one, Township Rollers of Botswana, he did not budge. On match-day one of the Caf Champions League group stage, KCCA lost 0-1 to Township Rollers.
But Mutebi said that he was not the kind to be fatalistic or pessimistic for that matter. Mutebi does not think their previous outing will have anything to do with their clash against Al-Ahly. These are two different games Mutebi insisted.
In addition, Mutebi went on to throw a barb at the media, who continuously undermine his team’s growing potential. He said that even last year, when KCCA were drawn against FUS Rabat, Club Africain and El-Masry, three North African teams, the media insisted they were going to suffer annihilation.
But KCCA went ahead to beat all those three North African teams at Lugogo. It was a novelty in Ugandan football, for any club to beat three North African teams in one campaign at home. Mutebi said that a lot has changed in African football, as a host of teams, including from Sub-Saharan Africa, have improved.
Mutebi continued to say that previously, Al-Ahly had so much quality in the shape of Mohamed Aboutrika and Mohamed Barakat. Yet, that is not the case today. But that is not to say that the current Al-Ahly has no quality.
“The only thing as far as we are concerned is to believe in ourselves and play our way, than worry about what our opponents are made of,” Mutebi said.
Interestingly, the Al-Ahly team that had Aboutrika and Barakat played against SC Villa in 2005 in the second knock-out round of the Caf Champions League. The first leg at Nakivubo ended goalless, although Cranes goalkeeper Denis Onyango was the man-of-the-match then.
However, not even Onyango’s great goalkeeping instincts, that recently propelled him to being voted Africa’s best player in 2016 could stop Al-Ahly from putting six unanswered goals past Villa in the return leg. That is how ruthless Al-Ahly were and have normally been against Ugandan opposition.
In fact, the only other time Al-Ahly lost to a Ugandan side, was back in 1991, when following a 2-0 win first leg win in Cairo, they lost 2-0 to Villa at Nakivubo. And with the tie locked at 2-2 on aggregate after normal time, the Jogoos won the contest on spot-kicks.
That said, Al-Ahly coach Hossam El-Badry is not considering his team’s past clashes with Ugandan clubs, let alone Egypt’s 0-1 loss to Uganda last August in Namboole as pointers to what will be this time, when they face KCCA.
“The circumstances are totally different and every game is unique in its own way,” El-Badry said.
Yet, El-Badry did not hide his expectations from the game. El-Badry said that at the back of their minds, they believe they will win. He pointed out that after drawing with Esperance two weeks ago, they must bounce back this time.
El-Badry, who led Al-Ahly to the finals of this competition last year, before they lost to Wydad Casablanca 2-1 on aggregate, knows how crucial it is that they do well. They go into this tie with KCCA under immense pressure to succeed.
For that matter, El-Badry did not mince words in calling on the referees (who are from South Africa), that will be in charge, to exercise fair-play during the game. But with the experience in his team, led by full-back Ahmed Fathy, they are in good stead.
Fathy has three Africa Cup of Nations winners medals, plus a couple of Caf Champions League titles. Such is the glory, that fascinates KCCA, as they aspire to reach that level, beginning by getting one over Al-Ahly on Tuesday afternoon.
KCCA FC LINE-UP 4-3-3: 1. Charles Lukwago (gk); 16. Dennis Okot, 12. Mustafa Kizza, 2. Habib Kavuma and 5. Timothy Awany; 20. Isaac Kirabira, 6. Sadam Juma and 8. Jackson Nunda; 21. Muhammad Shaban, 25. Allan Okello and 22. Julius Poloto
SUBSTITUTES: 26. Thomas Ikara (gk), 7. Solomon Okwalinga, 14. Paul Mucureezi, 3. Lawrence Bukenya 15. Paul Musamali, 9. Derrick Nsibambi and 28. Filbert Obenchan