JOHANNESBURG: Crack Cairo club Zamalek host Kenyan military outfit Ulinzi Stars Sunday in an African Champions League tie that marks the return of competitive football to Egypt.
The first round, second leg qualifier is set for the 22,000-seat Military Academy Stadium in the capital city after plans to stage the game in Libya were scrapped when unrest engulfed that country.
Zamalek feared they would have to play in front of empty stands because of recent turmoil, but the military authorities running the country agreed to spectators attending.
Domestic and international fixtures were cancelled in Egypt during an 18-day uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak to quit after governing the North African state for 30 years.
The 16-club national championship was halted and the United States called off a Cairo friendly this month against Egypt, winners of the Africa Cup of Nations a record seven times.
Zamalek, whose five Champions League titles is bettered only by neighbors and fierce century-old rivals Al-Ahly, won 4-0 in Kenya and coach Hossam Hassan dedicated the surprisingly big victory to his countrymen.
"This victory is for Egypt. The game was difficult for my players because of the turbulence back home. We played our best and concentrated on the game," the former star national team striker said after the first encounter.
Hassan is considering recalling former Wigan striker Amr Zaki — sidelined since October with a knee problem that required treatment in Qatar — as Algerian replacement Mohamed Aoudia is injured.
While Zamalek have had to settle for friendlies, Ulinzi warmed up by losing 1-0 to African Confederation Cup challengers Sofapaka last weekend in a one-off Kenyan Super Cup game.
After a dismal African Nations Championship campaign of three consecutive losses, Ghana coach Herbert Addo faces the mammoth mission of coaxing Aduana Stars into overturning a 3-0 away loss to Moroccans Wydad Casablanca.
Aduana are competing in Africa for the first time having piped AshantiGold for the championship on head-to-head records and hopes of shocking 1992 African title holders Wydad champions have been jolted by internal tension.
Striker Richard Addai was banned indefinitely for assaulting assistant coach Ben Zola during training and his likely absence will dilute the power of an attack that won the league despite scoring just 19 times in 30 outings.
There are four other qualifiers scheduled for the weekend and Zamalek, Wydad, ASEC Mimosas and JC Abidjan of Ivory Coast, Djoliba of Mali and Vita Club of the Democratic Republic of Congo should progress to the last-32 stage.
A further three fixtures next weekend in Cameroon and Tunisia will conclude the drawn-out first round in the premier Pan-African club competition with the winners securing $1.5 million and a 2011 Club World Cup place.