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Wed Apr 16 09:26:06 SAST 2014

Pirates uneasy about trip to volatile Egypt

MARK GLEESON | 26 July, 2013 06:150 Comments
Zamalek's fans celebrate a goal against derby rivals Al Ahly during their CAF Champions League match at El Gouna in Hurghada, about 430km from the capital Cairo this week. The match ended in a draw

ORLANDO Pirates coach Roger de Sa admits he is concerned about the prospect of having to travel to troubled Egypt next week on assignment in the African Champions League, but trusts that, if there are any risks to his players, adequate precautions will be taken.

"With the political issues, obviously we have concerns. What we see on television is a worrying factor but I'm sure CAF will make the right decision," he said as Pirates look ahead to a meeting with holders Al Ahly in tension-wracked Cairo next week Sunday.

Ahly and their domestic rivals Zamalek share Group A with Pirates, who dropped two points at home in their opening group game last Saturday at home to unheralded AC Leopards of Congo.

Ahly and Zamalek made a belated start to their fixtures on Wednesday, drawing 1-1 in a match supposed to be behind closed doors but where, just hours before kick-off, authorities allowed fanatical "ultras" fans in to avoid riots outside the stadium.

The game was shifted to the Red Sea resort of El Gouna, about 430km from Cairo to temper its potential to become a flashpoint for more of the violence that has bedevilled Egypt since a military coup recently .

Pirates are scheduled to meet Ahly at the Air Force Stadium in Cairo in a late-night kickoff.

"If they [CAF] see it is dangerous, obviously they'll make a decision. We are just waiting to hear. We'd much rather we'd gone there when things are pretty chilled and got to play two top teams in African football in different circumstances."

Some 5000 fans got to see Ahly's game on Wednesday, but despite the regular explosion of firecrackers and bright orange smoke flares, there was no obvious tension but a carnival atmosphere.

But with the Air Force Stadium being inside a military precinct, near the Cairo airport, it is unlikely gatecrashers will be tolerated.

De Sa said he was not sure playing behind closed doors will help his club's cause even if it robs Ahly of the fanatical support that has frequently intimidated both opponents and referees.

"An empty stadium could take the pressure off them and help them play better.

"It could motivate their players or demotivate them. Even us. We are used to playing in front of big crowds. It could feel like a training match. I don't know what it will be like, but I hope it goes our way and it gives us a bit of an edge because they are tough teams to beat.

"They are the strongest teams in Africa if you look at their record, so we are looking forward to the opportunity to measure ourselves against those type of players and those type of teams."

De Sa said despite the disappointing start last weekend against Leopards at Orlando Stadium, he and his players were revelling in being the first South Africa side in seven years to reach the lucrative group phase.

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Pirates uneasy about trip to volatile Egypt

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