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Nov 9, 2006

Drug scandal rocks holders Al Ahli ahead of final

JOHANNESBURG, Nov 9 (Reuters) - A potential drug scandal has cast a shadow over Egyptian giants Al Ahli as they prepare to defend their African Champions League title in Tunisia on Saturday.

Midfielder Amro Samaka has been left out of the squad for the second leg of the final in the latest selection setback for the Cairo club after Al Ahli had been informed by the Confederation of African Football that he had failed a drug test.

Samaka's second sample, taken after a group match against JS Kabylie of Algeria in mid-September, is still to be examined but if it too proves positive, Samaka faces a one-year ban.

Samaka is joined on the sidelines by Egyptian international Mohamed Barakat, who had been named as the tournament's best player last year after Al Ahli romped to the African title.

Barakat has battled with injury this year but returned to the starting line-up in the first leg of the final against CS Sfaxien in Cairo on Oct. 29. The match ended in a 1-1 draw.

Barakat's knee injury follows the suspension of midfield kingpin Mohamed Shawky, cautioned for the second time in three matches in the first leg of the final, and long-term injuries to Emad Al Nahhas, striker Osama Hosni and the former Anderlecht midfielder Tarek Said.

Al Ahli's coach Manuel Jose has repeatedly blamed a taxing schedule of matches in domestic and African competition for a spate of injuries throughout the year for the Egyptian champions.

But the Portuguese coach, who is hoping to win the Champions League title for a third time in six years, did receive a fillip with the return to fitness of international defender Ahmed El Sayed, who has recovered from a long-standing groin injury.

Al Ahli are seeking to win the Champions League for a record-equaling fifth time and become only the third club in more than 40 years to successfully defend African football's top club prize.

Saturday's second leg is being played at the November 7 stadium at Rades, on the outskirts of Tunis.