GAROUA: A cold war has broken out ahead of the African Champions League final, second-leg clash between hosts Cotonsport Garoua of Cameroon and Al-Ahly of Egypt here on Sunday.
Cotonsport, trailing 2-0 after conceding a couple of early goals in Cairo two weeks ago, are refusing to assist Ahly with transport and accommodation and booted an Ahly spy out of their ground during a domestic match.
Hostilities erupted when the Cameroonians arrived in Egypt and shunned hotel, transport and other facilities offered by Ahly, opting to stay in a sports village north of Cairo.
And when Ahly assistant coach Hossam Al-Badri and an Egyptian diplomat based in Cameroon later traveled to the northern cotton town of Garoua there was no red-carpet treatment.
Spotted watching Cotonsport playing their opening 2008-2009 league fixture, the duo were ordered to leave the Omnisport Stadium, the 35,000-seat venue for the final, by local officials.
Al-Badri, a former Ahly footballer and long-serving assistant to highly successful Portuguese coach Manuel Jose, still believes the long trip from Cairo was worthwhile.
It helped me assess the training pitches and the accommodation. The hotel is good by African standards and considered the best in Garoua, he told the club website.
Clearly wary of the dirty tricks that are commonplace in African football, Ahly have delayed their departure for Cameroon by one day to Friday and say they will be assisted by Egyptian embassy officials in central Africa.
Cotonsport, seeking to return the Champions League trophy to Cameroon after a 28-year absence, say responsibility for Ahly lies with the national football association.
Long delays at airports, buses lacking air conditioning, no hot water, constant harassment by prostitutes and inedible food at hotels, and missing keys when training grounds need to be used are among popular dirty tricks .
The match pits a Cotonsport side making its first appearance in the Champions League final against opponents seeking a record sixth title and boosted by a four-match unbeaten away run in Africa.
Cotonsport have lost just once at home in 19 Champions League outings since their 1998 debut and that was six years ago when slumping 1-0 at home against Etoile of Congo to make a second-round exit.
Since that reverse the Cameroonians have won 14 matches and drawn one in the premier African Football Confederation club competition, scoring 33 goals and conceding only one.
En route to the decider, Garoua won seven consecutive home games against Vital O of Burundi (1-0), Gombe of Nigeria (5-0), Kabylie of Algeria (3-0), Mazembe of Democratic Republic of Congo (1-0), Hilal of Sudan (1-0), Enyimba of Nigeria (3-0) and Dynamos of Zimbabwe (4-0).
We gave Ahly too much respect in Cairo and defended poorly at set pieces. However, I m sure we can overcome the deficit at home as the pressure will be off us, said captain Ahmadou Ngomna, who is ruled out by suspension.
Ivory Coast-born coach Alain Ouombleon echoed these views: The Cairo result was unacceptable and will be avenged. Ahly are good at set pieces and I told my players before the first leg to be careful, but there was a lack of caution.
Playing far from their 73,000-capacity Cairo fortress holds no fears for Jose, a gum-chewing 62-year-old fox who guided Ahly to three of their five Champions League titles.
When we play at home we are always under pressure from the fans. But we perform well away when under no pressure. Ahly have the best footballers in Africa and we should go for a win wherever we play, boasted Jose.
I m glad we prevented Cotonsport from scoring in Cairo because had they done so our mission in Cameroon would have been much harder, added the man rated the best foreign coach of Ahly by former goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary.
After a shock 2-1 qualifying loss at Platinum Stars of South Africa, Ahly impressed on the road as they defeated Dynamos 1-0 and held ASEC Mimosas of Ivory Coast (0-0), arch foes Zamalek of Egypt (2-2) and Enyimba (0-0).
Ahly will look principally to leading scorer Angola-born Flavio Amado and midfielder maestro Mohamed Abou-Trika for a potential title-clinching away goal while Cotonsport hopes rest heavily on Niger striker Daouda Kamilou. -AFP