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Sunday, 25 October 2020

Egypt's Zamalek hold firm in Tunisia to reach Champions League semis

Hatem Maher , Friday 6 Mar 2020
Zamalek v Esperance
Esperance's forward Hamdou Elhouni (C) dribbles the ball past Zamalek's defenders Mohamed Abdel Shafi (L) and Mahmoud Alaa (R) during the second leg of the CAF Champions League Quarter-final football match (AFP)
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Views: 1638

Egypt's Zamalek defended stoutly in Rades to reach the African Champions League semi-final for the first time in four years despite a 1-0 loss to title holders Esperance on Friday.

The five-time winners went through with a 3-2 aggregate win after an early goal they conceded appeared to undermine their first-leg advantage.

Billel Bensaha's fifth-minute penalty made for an exciting opening but this was the only interesting aspect of a dour affair, in which Zamalek defended in numbers and Esperance, winners of the past two editions of the Champions League, never looked like scoring again.

The hosts looked to be dearly affected by the heavy sanctions imposed on them by African governing body CAF for surrounding and harassing the referee in the first leg, including a four-match suspension on full-back Khalil Chamam and a four-match ban on Abderaouf Benguit, who netted their only goal last week.

Esperance coach Mouine Chaabani was also given a four-game touchline ban. 

The only chance that fell to Esperance on their home soil came on 70 minutes when Libyan winger Hamdou Elhouni cut inside a couple of defenders and fired a low shot that forced a superb one-handed save from Mohamed Abou-Gabal, even though the keeper was unsighted.

Zamalek then comfortably dealt with Esperance's feeble attempts to overcome Esperance again, having beaten them 3-1 in the African Super Cup last month.

The White Knights, who reached the final in 2016 before losing to South Africa's Mamelodi Sundowns, will meet either TP Mazembe of the DR Congo or Moroccan side Raja in the last four.

Raja hold a 2-0 advantage going into the second leg in Lubumbashi on Saturday.

Scrappy game

The only highlight of a scrappy first half was the early penalty, which was awarded after Ibrahim Ouattara's attempted pass struck the hands of Zamalek's central defender Mahmoud Alaa.

Bensaha calmly tucked away the spot-kick, sparking jubilant scenes in the stands as the passionate fans sensed a looming comeback.

But the rest of the game was so disappointing that even the vociferous chants of the home crowd failed to spur a lethargic Esperance side, who resorted to some innocuous long balls that were no trouble to Zamalek's composed rearguard.

Zamalek's shy counter attacks only resulted in a low shot from Achraf Bencharki that was saved by Esperance keeper Moez Ben Cherifia three minutes past the hour mark.

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