Dec 24 (Reuters) - Egyptian clubs will make a belated start to their domestic soccer season on Tuesday, hopeful of completing it after security issues cut short the last two campaigns.
The 2013-14 season marks the return of Al Masry for the first time since the Port Said stadium riot in February last year when 74 people, mostly fans of opponents Al Ahli, were killed.
Spectators were crushed when panicked crowds tried to escape from the stadium after a pitch invasion by supporters of Al Masry. Others fell or were thrown from terraces.
The violent clashes shocked Egypt and resulted in the 2011-12 season being immediately halted and a host of sanctions for the Port Said club.
Club football then suffered a near year-long standstill before a new season belatedly got underway, only for it to be halted in July after the army ousted the country's president Mohamed Mursi with one round of the 2012-13 regular season left.
The 22 clubs in the top flight will be divided into two groups with play-offs at the end of the season to determine the champions. All games will be played behind closed doors, the Egyptian Football Association announced.
Al Masry have been ordered to play their matches at Suez, while military stadiums in Cairo will host the games of African champions Al Ahli and their arch rivals Zamalek, both of whom command passionate followings. The pair have been placed in separate groups.
The opening fixture on Tuesday pits Petrojet against Talae El-Gaish, with five matches scheduled for Dec. 25 and four more on Dec. 26 in the first round of action.
Thursday's kick off comes after a series of start dates for the new season had been put back.
"It has been incredibly difficult to prepare," said El Gouna's German coach Rainer Zobel in an interview with the Kicker soccer magazine.
"We've had several false starts to the season in August, then September and lastly December 6. It has been a long, long wait." (Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Patrick Johnston)