Lack of fitness cost Al Ahli unbeaten record, says coach
JOHANNESBURG: Continental champions Al Ahli paid the price for a lack of early season fitness when they lost their 78-match unbeaten record on African soil, according to their Portuguese coach Manuel Jose. The Egyptian side, who had not lost a game in domestic or continental competition for two years, suffered a surprise 1-0 reversal at CS Sfaxien of Tunisia on Saturday in their group phase opener of the African Champions League. Portuguese coach Jose, who has taken the club to two successive league titles and two Champions League crowns, said he had been surprised by the low energy levels of his players in their first match of the season. Certain of my key players have had too much football over the last year and have not been able to find their rhythm, Jose told reporters in Tunis before his side s departure to Cairo on Sunday. Al Ahli provided nine players for Egypt s national side which won the African Nations Cup title in February. Saturday s win saw CS Sfaxien take top place in Group A along with Algeria s JS Kabylie, who were 1-0 winners at home over Asante Kotoko of Ghana on Sunday. Sfax coach Mrab Mahjoubi, in charge of his first match since replacing Swiss coach Michel Decastel, said he had demanded total commitment from his men. Our secret was to close down their space and to ensure they did not get any chance to create chances, he told Monday s edition of Tunisia s La Presse newspaper. Al Ahli s 78-match unbeaten run in domestic and continental competition lasted from July 2004 but they did lose twice at last December s Club World Championship in Japan. Still intact is a run of 56 matches without defeat in the Egyptian league, stretching back to May 2004. The new season starts next month. We have to urgently regroup now and bounce back in our next match against JS Kabylie, Jose added. Al Ahli hosts the Algerian champions in Cairo on July 29 just hours after CS Sfaxien play away in Ghana against Asante Kotoko in the second round of group matches. Nigeria s Enyimba won its opening match in Group B with a 2-0 away triumph over Ghana s Hearts of Oak on Sunday. The group s other game is scheduled for Tuesday when Orlando Pirates of South Africa host ASEC Abidjan from the Ivory Coast in Johannesburg.