CAF Cup debutants Pyramids ready to rise into an African force

New Pyramids FC signing Lumala Abdu (F) playing for Uganda against Senegal in the Africa Cup of Nations last month (AFP Photo/MOHAMED EL-SHAHED )

Johannesburg (AFP) - A change of name and owner has turned Egyptian club Pyramids FC into a force to reckon with ahead of their African debut Friday in the CAF Confederation Cup.

Previously known as Al Assiouty Sport, the club was bought by Saudi Sports Authority chairman Turki al Sheikh last year and the impact was immediate.

Pyramids finished third in the just completed Egyptian Premier League, trailing only traditional giants Al Ahly and Zamalek, and are FA Cup contenders.

The top-three finish secured the Cairo-based outfit a place in the second-tier Confederation Cup and they debut at home to Etoile from Congo Brazzaville.

Etoile have made little impression in three appearances and it would be a surprise if they prevented Pyramids winning the preliminary tie and reaching the round of 32.

Pyramids hired French coach Sebastien Desabre after he guided Uganda to the knockout phase of an Africa Cup of Nations last month for the first time in 41 years.

The Uganda connection does not end there as winger Lumala Abdu, who impressed during the tournament in Egypt, has been signed from Swedish club Kalmar FF.

Another newcomer to the Pyramids squad is Ghanaian forward John Antwi, who moved from fellow Egyptian top-flight club Misr el Makassa.

Defenders Ahmed Ali, Mohamed Atwa and Tarek Taha, midfielder Mahmoud Hamda and winger Islam Issa, have also joined.

- Challenge dominance -

While Egypt are the most successful nation in CAF club competitions with 33 titles, 29 of those have been won by either Ahly or Zamalek.

Al Sheikh wants to challenge the dominance of the Cairo giants and the CAF performances of Pyramids will be closely watched.

Although the club may be debutants, the likes of captain and midfielder Abdallah el Said and goalkeeper Ahmed el Shenawy gained vast international exposure playing for Ahly and Zamalek.

Pyramids are one of 19 newcomers to a competition that is the African equivalent of the UEFA Europa League.

Among them is Mogadishu City Club, the first Somali side to compete in the Confederation Cup since it replaced the African Cup Winners Cup and CAF Cup competitions in 2004.

Mogadishu cannot play at home because of ongoing violence in the east African nation, which will lessen their chances of overcoming fellow newcomers Malindi from Zanzibar.

Daring Club Motema Pembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo are the only preliminary round side to have lifted a CAF trophy, beating Kenyan Breweries in the 1994 Cup Winners Cup final.

The Kinshasa outfit, who made early exits from the past two editions, enjoy home advantage first against unknown Cameroonians Stade Renard Melong.

Among 11 clubs who received byes to the round of 32 are CS Sfaxien of Tunisia, winners of the Confederation Cup a record three times.