Egypt’s two arch-rivals and powerhouses Ahly and Zamalek overcame their African contenders to book their tickets to the semi-final round of the African Champions League and will be facing two Moroccan giants in May.
The first leg matches of the Champions League semi-final are due to be played on 1 or 2 May in Morocco, while the return matches will be played on 8 or 9 May in Egypt.
The matches in Egypt will be played in Cairo Stadium.
Ahly, the record eight-time champions, reserved their place in the last four after a one-all draw with South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns in their second leg quarter-final match held in Pretoria.
Ahly progressed 3-1 on aggregate avenging their 5-0 loss to Sundowns in the same stage in last year’s edition, their worst defeat in their African history.
Sundowns’ Ricardo Nascimento started the attack in the second leg in a bid to secure an early goal but Ahly’s goalkeeper Mohamed Al-Shennawi was there to block.
On the 21 minute, Ali Maaloul’s free-kick was deflected by Lebohang Maboe into his own net to give Ahly the opener.
Sundowns’ Thema Zwane answered six minutes later with an equaliser to draw 1-1.
Ahly’s coach Rene Weiler resorted to defence afterwards to prevent more goals, pulling out Mahmoud Metwalli and Badji for Mohamed Hani and Ayman Ashraf to book their place in the last four where they will face Wydad Athletic Club of Morocco.
Wydad left-back Mohamed Nahiri matched Maaloul’s first-leg feat by scoring both goals in a 2-0 home victory over Etoile du Sahel. The Moroccan defender broke the deadlock against the Tunisian outfit after only 11 minutes and added a second goal nine minutes into the second half.
“We considered the first and second leg matches against Sundowns as one match of 180 minutes and the players were up to the challenge,” Weiler said after the game. “They did their best and I am sure all the players and fans want the title so we will work hard to do so and we have still enough time to prepare well as we are meeting a tough opponent that is after the title as we are.”
“We did our best to avenge ourselves against Sundowns whom we lost to last season,” Maaloul said. “All players vowed to win the contender and qualify to the semis. We are facing a very strong team in the semi-final round and the match won’t be easy for both sides but we will work hard to win the title which is the target of all the players and Ahli fans.”
Wydad beat Ahly in the final of the Champions League two years ago.
Zamalek of Egypt also reached the Champions League semi-finals for the first time since 2016 in spite of losing to holders Esperance of Tunisia 1-0 at Rades Olympic Stadium on Friday.
Zamalek had won the first-leg 3-1.
Esperance’s sole goal came through Billel Ben Saha in only the fifth minute but they were unable to score a second to lose their chance to defend their title which they won the past two seasons. Esperance pushed hard to score the all-important second goal that would have put them through but Zamalek’s defensive line was up to the task.
Zamalek qualified with an aggregate 3-2 victory. They will face Morocco’s Raja Casablanca in the semis after Raja beat DR Congo’s TP Mazembe 2-0.
“My players did their best and it was not an easy match,” Zamalek’s head coach Patrice Carteron said. “I resorted to defence to keep the score the way it was as I was sure we would qualify to the semis. We are meeting a strong team in the semis but we still have a lot of time to prepare and get ready while studying our Moroccan opponent.”
Amir Mortada, Zamalek’s football manager, said “we were better and the players were up to the challenge. They were put under great stress after what was written in the Tunisian press but they did it. We have enough time to prepare well and the league matches will give us a good opportunity to choose new faces and give new players the chance to show their skills and talents.”
In the second tier Confederation Cup, although they lost at home to Zambia’s Zanaco 1-0, Egypt’s Pyramids progressed to the semi-finals of the tournament 3-1 on aggregate. Winning 3-0 away from home in Zambia in the first-leg a week earlier, Pyramids needed to avoid a defeat of more than two goals at home and that was what they did to qualify to the semis and write history for themselves. Pyramids are playing in only their second season in the Egyptian league and are playing in an African tournament for the first time.
Zanaco’s Rodgers Kola was the scorer of the team’s sole goal at the end of halftime but Pyramids sailed safely to the semis.
Egypt’s Masri lost 1-0 to last season’s losing finalists RS Berkane of Morocco at Berkane Municipal Stadium, missing out on a semi-final berth as Berkane qualified 3-2 on aggregate. Masri drew 2-2 at home in the first leg. The game was played behind closed doors as was requested by Moroccan health authorities because of the coronavirus.
Najji Larbi scored Berkane’s first goal five minutes before the break to give the hosts the lead and a place in the semis that they longed for. Mahmoud Wadi should have equalised for Masri on the brink of halftime but he missed Ahmed Yasser’s cross to see his header go wide.
Berkane will now face compatriots Hassania Agadir in May for a place in the final for the second consecutive season, with a maiden Confederation Cup title at stake.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly