Egypt's Al-Ahly players avoid politics ahead of crucial South Africa match
JOHANNESBURG - Anadolu Agency
Al-Ahly's Mohamed Aboutrika (2nd R) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against Zamalek during their CAF Champions League soccer match at El-Gouna stadium in Hurghada, about 464 km (288 miles) from the capital Cairo on Sept. 15, 2013. REUTERS photoThe coach and players of African champions Egypt's Al-Ahly refrained from talking about the political crisis in their homeland during their visit to South Africa for a decisive African Championship League match.
"We are well-prepared for the match and hopefully we will win," superstar Mohammed Aboutrika told Anadolu Agency in an impromptu interview, declining to answer further questions.
The iconic player referred all other questions to the club's media liaison officer Gamal Gabr.
"Today there are no interviews with players. Come after the match and you can speak to them," Gabr told a correspondent, cancelling a scheduled interview with Aboutrika and other players.
Another Al-Ahly official had earlier authorized Anadolu Agency to interview the team.
The seven-time champions will play against Orlando Pirates on Sunday in Soweto near Johannesburg for their final CAF Champions League Group A game.
The Red Devils are at the top of the group with 10 points, three points ahead of the South African side, which is expected to fight hard to win the game and end up as the group's leaders.
Although the hosts will have home support, Al-Ahly coach Mohamed Youssef believes his players will win the match against Orlando Pirates. "My players are well-prepared and I believe they will do their best," he said.
Smiling, Al-Ahly players seemed to be in an upbeat mood during their last training session before the match, knowing that a draw would get them what they came for.
However, some of the team's stars expressed determination to avenge a humiliating 3-0 defeat in the Red Sea resort of El-Gouna last month.
The defeat was Al-Ahly's heaviest home defeat ever in the African Champions League.
South African authorities have been on alert following reports that supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi plan to protest outside the stadium.
"Our security officials will handle those who want to disrupt the match," T.K Moeketsi, the media liaison officer at Orlando Pirates told Anadolu Agency in a telephone interview.
Reports have emerged that anti-coup supporters plan to protest outside the Orlando Stadium with the aim of sending a message to the Egyptian military-installed regime.
"We will protest tomorrow at Orlando Stadium," an Egyptian national living in South Africa said, requesting anonymity for fear of reprisals against his family back in Egypt.
He said the aim was to "send a message to the military junta in Egypt that we are unhappy with their actions, especially the killing of pro-democracy protesters and detention of leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood."
High police and security visibility could be easily noticed around the stadium on Saturday afternoon during Al-Ahly's last training session, an indication of tightened security ahead of the game.
Last month, thousands of South Africans marched to the Parliament building to express their solidarity with Morsi and the anti-coup protesters who were killed in a violent crackdown by Egyptian security forces last month.
"We are protesting against the murder of pro-democracy protesters, the military coup and the detention of President Mohamed Morsi and other leading figures of the Muslim Brotherhood," Sheikh Irfaan Abrahams of the Muslims Judicial Council of South Africa (MJC) said at the time.
The march that was co-organized by the MJC, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the ruling African National Congress party (ANC) was the second pro-democracy protest to be organized in South Africa against Morsi's ouster.
The Egyptian army ousted Morsi, the country's first democratically elected president, on July 3 following mass protests against his regime. It suspended the constitution and installed the head of the constitutional court as interim president.
Several countries, including South Africa, have described the unconstitutional change of government in Egypt as a "military coup."