St George Champions League

Saint George hope to become the first Ethiopian club to reach the Champions League group stage when they host Zamalek of Egypt this weekend in a last-16 return fixture.

The Addis Ababa outfit exceeded expectations with a 1-1 draw against the five-time African champions in Cairo two weeks ago, taking the lead through Oumed Oukri before Abdoulaye Cisse snatched a late equaliser.

After decades in the football doldrums, Ethiopia are on the rise with a Saint George-dominated national squad reaching the 2013 Cup of Nations after a 31-year absence and topping a World Cup qualifying group that includes South Africa.

Having fired eight unanswered goals past Jamhuri of Zanzibar and comfortably disposed of Djoliba of Mali, the Saints find themselves in unchartered territory with a lucrative mini-league slot tantalisingly close.

“It would be amazing to make the group stage,” admits German coach Michael Kruger, who guided Egyptian club Arab Contractors to the 1996 African Cup Winners Cup title.

“We must be cautious and determined as Zamalek will come to Addis searching for a win and their continental experience is much broader than that of my players,” he warned.

Brazil-born Zamalek coach Jorvan Vieira remains upbeat despite the first-leg setback in an empty Cairo stadium with supporters barred after ripping seats from fittings during a previous home fixture.

“Zamalek are capable of winning in Ethiopia and reaching the group phase.

In modern football there are no home and away games – you must play to win all your matches.” Read more