Zamalek hit by goalkeeper crisis before CAF Cup final


AFP, Johannesburg :
Zamalek of Egypt go into the first leg of the CAF Confederation Cup final at Renaissance Berkane of Morocco this Sunday with a third-choice goalkeeper and no back-up on the bench.
Omar Salah will start between the posts because regular Mahmoud 'Gennesh' Abdel Rahim is suspended and second-choice Emad el Sayed injured.
The Cairo club registered three goalkeepers for the African equivalent of the UEFA Europa League so if Salah was injured or sent off, an outfield player would have to replace him.
When Abdel Rahim was red-carded late in the second leg of the semi-final against Etoile Sahel in Tunisia, striker Omar el Said took his place as the three substitutions had been made.
"It is far from an ideal situation having only one goalkeeper going into a match," admitted Zamalek coach and former Tottenham Hotspur manager Christian Gross.
"But I have absolute confidence in Omar (Salah) and believe he will be a worthy replacement with Mahmoud banned and Emad injured.
"I hope we do not face a situation during the match where Omar (Salah) has to be replaced as it would mean someone who does not normally feature as a goalkeeper wearing the gloves.
"Those last few minutes of the semi-final against Etoile in Tunisia, when we clung to a one-goal lead on aggregate, were not pleasant.
"Our defence was magnificent throughout the second leg, fighting like lions to preserve the one-goal lead built in the first leg in Alexandria.
"The greatest tribute I can pay to my players is that Omar (el Said) did not have a single shot to save after he took over from Mahmoud."
Gross hopes to become the second Swiss coach after Michel Decastel with CS Sfaxien of Tunisia in 2007 to win the Confederation Cup.
While Zamalek are among the best known clubs in Africa, it is 16 years since they lifted a CAF trophy, defeating Wydad Casablanca of Morocco to win the Super Cup.
The Cairo-based White Knights, who play many African fixtures in Alexandria for security reasons, are the equal third most successful club in CAF competitions with nine titles.
They have been African champions five times, hoisted the Super Cup on three occasions and also won the now defunct African Cup Winners Cup once.
Zamalek are eyeing success on three fronts as they trail arch rivals Al Ahly by four points with a match in hand in the domestic title race and have reached the FA Cup quarter-finals.
After losing two of five matches early in the Confederation Cup campaign, Zamalek confront Berkane boasting a nine-match unbeaten record.
Berkane are based in a northeastern city that is the centre of the Moroccan citrus fruit industry so it is no surprise that the football club are nicknamed the 'oranges'.
After getting to the 2018 Confederation Cup quarter-finals, a Renaissance side captained by midfielder Larbi Naji will be appearing in the final of a CAF competition for the first time.
Outstanding home form in the 15,000-seat Stade Municipal has swept them into the title decider as they won six of seven matches, drew the other, scored 21 goals and conceded three.
Togolese Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba is the leading scorer with seven and Burkinabe Issoufou Dayo has four, a great achievement for a central defender.
It was Dayo who took Berkane into the final as his goal from a tight angle completed a 3-0 semi-final second leg demolition of Sfaxien after losing 2-0 in Tunisia.
The overall winners receive $1.25 million (1.1 mn euros) and will play the CAF Champions League winners, Wydad Casablanca or Esperance of Tunisia, for the Super Cup.