When it comes to Ahly s chances in the Club World Cup in Japan, a saner head is prevailing. Their Portuguese coach Manuel Jose is not looking higher than a third place finish, despite the multitudes around here who are already anticipating a final between the Cairo club and Manchester United and may be even an audacious win over the kings of Europe. Egypt s masses take it for granted that Ahly can only improve over their third place finish in the CWC two years ago, especially since to reach this year s final Ahly will challenge clubs nobody has ever heard of.
Jose, however, is wary of unrealistic expectations and for good reason. When Ahly went to Japan for the first time three years ago, the club thought they would bring the house down. They did – it collapsed atop their heads. They finished dead last. The following year, Ahly s approach to the CWC was much more sedate and bingo! They finished third.
This year, despite Jose s warnings of overconfidence, Ahly truly believe they will sweep past Mexico s Pachuca, then vanquish Quito of Ecuador for a berth in the final. The reasoning appears logical enough. The CONCACAF, which sounds more like a brand of decaffeinated coffee than a soccer zone, never deploy strong representatives and that would include Pachuca, which lost in last year s CWC to Tunisia s Etoile, a team Ahly usually uses as a punching bag.
Ahly will also tell you that their third place finish in 2006 came at the expense of another Mexican side, Club America.
Being winners of the Copa Libertadores, Quito might prove a higher hurdle, but Ahly will add that this outfit is simply not in the same league with the much more vaunted South American names.
In both cases, Ahly can boast more invaluable experience under their belts, having gone to the CWC a record three times. Pachuca and Quito are CWC novices.
But it would be folly if Ahly were to dismiss their opponents with a curt wave of the hand. Pachuca and Quito provide their national teams with nine players between them, and the results can be seen in World Cups. It s hard to remember the last time Mexico did not appear in the World Cup, and Ecuador made it to the second round in the 2006 World Cup before being edged by England 1-0.
You can t be the champion of South America unless you re good. And Quito are just that after beating Brazil s Fluminense in a high-scoring two-leg final. Although they are the first South American team not from Brazil or Argentina to reach the CWC, they are currently ranked the 34th best club in the world and that says something.
Ahly must also take a stark look at themselves. Despite winning the African Champions League a record sixth time, at no time did they give an overwhelming performance. In the domestic league not half over, they have already lost twice.
One factor Ahly and all other teams must be careful of is the briefness of the tournament. One win can take you to the final, but on the way, one loss and there will be no final. Anything can happen in one game, including a favorite going down to an underdog.
So shocking can one-game results be that as we all look the other way, Manchester United could conceivably miss the final. That would be highly unlikely in a draw that includes lightweights Australia s Adelaide United, Gamba Osaka of Japan and part-timers Waitakere United of New Zealand. However, in a one-off match, the improbable could give way to the possible.
It is also possible Ahly reach the final and even win it all. But Jose doesn t advise holding your breath. Winning the Club World Cup is an impossible task for now, he is quoted as saying. We need more time to achieve that goal.
Jose took the words right out of our mouths.