Reigning Ethiopian Premier League champions St. George FC have drawn a daunting opponent in the next round of Confederation of African Football (CAF) Champions League qualifying. The Horsemen will face continental power house and five-time winners Al Ahly of Egypt after claiming their domestic title and defeating KMKM FC of Zanzibar in the preliminary round.
Unfortunately for St. George, they will be forced to host the first leg in Egypt due to their home stadium not meeting CAF standards. Al Ahly have long been the dominant force in African club football, with immense quality and experience on the continental stage. It presents a huge challenge for the new Ethiopian champions to try to get a result on the road.
St. George announced this week that their upcoming fixture will take place in Egypt on September 17th. The return leg is penciled in between September 29th and October 1st, with St. George desperately hoping conditions will allow them to finally welcome Al Ahly to Addis Ababa’s Abebe Bikila Stadium.
After claiming their latest domestic title in impressive fashion, the Horsemen fought through preliminary qualifying against KMKM FC to progress through to the second round of qualifiers. The Horsemen made light work of Zanzibar’s KMKM, triumphing by a resounding 5-2 aggregate margin.
While being forced to host the first leg in Egypt is far from ideal, an even bigger blow for St. George FC is the loss of revenue from playing in an empty stadium. Due to ongoing issues within Ethiopia, the match against KMKM was played behind closed doors, depriving the club of much-needed cash from sponsorships and ticket sales.
When asked about its decision to hold the match against Al Ahly in Egypt, the club said “We made every effort to stage the game at the Abebe Bikila Stadium. We have provided funds to ensure facility requirements for hosting the contest were met as per CAF regulations. While we covered most expenses, unfortunate circumstances prevented us from hosting in our home city.”
Despite understanding the immense quality they’ll be up against, St. George are determined to push one of Africa’s giants all the way. While the odds are stacked against them, St. George’s players and coaches believe in their abilities and hope to pull an upset.
While not an ideal scenario, St. George will try to hold serve on the road and keep their hopes of a deep run alive going into the intimidating cauldron that awaits in the return leg back home versus one of Africa’s standard bearers, Al Ahly.