Depletions Rock CAF Cup Pacesetters Al Ahly

A heavily depleted Al Ahly squad visits Mali this weekend wanting to build on a great start to the CAF Confederation Cup group phase in defence of the title.

The Egyptians, winners of a record 19 African titles, play Stade Malien two weeks after thumping Tunisians Esperance 3-0 in the main attraction of that round of games.

Stade lost 1-0 the same weekend at Tunisians Etoile Sahel, had a player red-carded to boot, and would have suffered a heavier loss but for inspired goalkeeping from Djigui Diarra.

However, Ahly have never won an away group game in the second-tier competition and the absence of seven stars is a major blow to coach Fathy Mabrouk.

Suspensions rule out midfielders Hossam Ashour and Mohamed Hany and winger Walid Soliman.

Midfielders Mohamed Rezk and Islam Roshdi are barred from travelling outside Egypt because they are due to report for military service.

And injuries have sidelined winger Karim Bambou and Nigeria-born striker Peter Ebimobowei.

This leaves Mabrouk with only one natural central midfielder — former Tottenham Hotspur footballer Hossam Ghaly

An added challenge for Ahly is that the Bamako clash with 2009 Confederation Cup winners Stade kicks off Sunday at 1630 local time.

This is several hours before Muslims break a daily dawn-to-dusk fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

“I will not force my players to stop fasting and eat before the game although they have a license to do so,” stressed Mabrouk.

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“Our final training session will be held at the same time as the match so the players can get used to the conditions “

The other Group A fixture is a Tunisian derby between Esperance and Etoile Saturday in Tunis suburb Rades.

On-going post-Arab Spring security concerns led authorities to impose a 30,000 crowd ceiling, meaning the national stadium will be half full.

Etoile must face their arch domestic rivals without Algeria-born leading scorer Baghdad Bounedjah, one of many North African stars who have recently moved to the more lucrative Middle East.

As if being hammered by Ahly was not sufficiently depressing, new Esperance coach Jose Anigo from France had a training session interrupted by disgruntled supporters.

South Africans Orlando Pirates host Egyptians Zamalek Saturday in north-eastern city Nelspruit — 380 kilometres from their unavailable Soweto ground — in a top-of-the-table Group B clash.

The Buccaneers secured a lone-goal victory over AC Leopards 1-0 on a Congolese ‘cabbage patch’ while Burkinabe Abdoulaye Cisse snatched a late winner for the White Knights against Tunisian visitors CS Sfaxien.

Confederation Cup winners a record three times, Sfaxien host Leopards Friday in a match neither club dare lose after losing starts.

Leopards will make the long trip north as underdogs, but they stunned hosts Sfaxien 2-0 three years ago en route to winning the competition.