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Thursday, 06 May 2021

Late screamer hands Ahly long-awaited CL title with derby win over Zamalek

Ahly win a record-extending ninth African Champions League title after defeating Cairo's arch-rivals Zamalek 2-1 in the final on Friday

Hatem Maher , Friday 27 Nov 2020
Ahly
Al Ahly's Mohamed El-Shenawy celebrates with the trophy and teammates after winning the final REUTERS
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Ahly finally grasped an elusive African Champions League trophy after a late screamer from playmaker Magdi Afsha gave them a 2-1 victory over Cairo rivals Zamalek in a thrilling derby on Friday.

Afsha's unstoppable volley with four minutes remaining, after he stole ahead of Moroccan forward Achraf Bencharki, settled a nerve-jangling tie that was dubbed the "derby of the century" by local media.

It was a fitting end to an exciting affair that lived up to its billing, with both sides exchanging punches in an end-to-end game, which marked the first Champions League final to be staged on a single game. Ahly eventually proved the more clinical with the decisive winner.

Ahly midfielder Amr El-Sulaya headed home from a corner as early as the fifth minute but veteran winger Mahmoud Shikabala, who made a rare start after replacing the coronavirus-hit Youssef Ibrahim, leveled the score after a sublime solo effort on 31 minutes.

The Red Devils secured a record-extending ninth Champions League title and their first since 2013, atoning for two final losses against Morocco's Wydad and Tunisia's Esperance in 2017 and 2018 respectively.

South African boss Pitso Mosimane delivered the precious title little less than two months into the job, having taken over in October following the sudden departure of Swiss Rene Weiler.

He became only the third coach to win the trophy with two teams after Argentine Oscar Fullone and Egyptian Mahmoud El-Gohary, having grasped it while in charge of Mamelodi Sundowns in 2016 with another final victory over Zamalek.

Ahly are on course for a treble of titles, having already won the Egyptian Premier League title and reached the Egypt Cup semis.

For Zamalek, who last put their hands on the Champions League trophy in 2002, it was a bitter end to a season in which they have not been able to clinch a major title despite boasting a star-studded squad, only winning the Egyptian and African Super Cups. They are still in the Egypt Cup last four though.

Ahly will now represent Africa at the Club World Cup next year as they will make a sixth appearance -- a record in the continent.

Zamalek gaps

Ahly set about exposing the gaps behind Eslam Gaber, a natural midfielder who was introduced as a left-back to deputise for Abdallah Gomaa, one of three Zamalek players to miss the game after contracting COVID-19.

They sent an early warning when Ali Maaloul's floated ball somehow eluded Gaber to find Hussein El-Shahat, who broke clear but had his angled effort smothered by keeper Mohamed Abou-Gabal.

However, Abou-Gabal was powerless to stop Ahly from opening the scoring after five minutes, El-Sulaya ghosting behind a crowd of defenders to head home from close range following an inswinging corner from Maaloul.

Despite taking the lead, Ahly needlessly eased off, with Zamalek looking barely affected by falling behind that early.

The White Knights found their composure and stepped up a gear, winning most of the duels in midfield and playing the patience game, inviting Ahly's defenders to come forward and trying to pinpoint any resulting gaps.

But a 31st-minute equaliser was the result of one sublime move rather than a team effort.

Collecting the ball on the right after a tactical switch saw Shikabala move to the flank, he sneaked between Maaloul and Junior Ajayi to cut inside before skipping past El-Sulaya on the edge of the area and firing an unstoppable curler in off the crossbar at the far post.

Zamalek dominated for large spells after restoring parity, with lone striker Mostafa Mohamed missing a sitter after a deft through pass from Ferjani Sassi released him in the early stages of the second half, sending a tame shot into the hands of keeper Mohamed El-Shennawi.

But Ahly recovered quickly to ensure Zamalek won't make the most of their dominance, squandering a glorious chance when El-Shahat fired against the post with the goal gaping after a square pass from Maaloul.

At the other end, Zamalek winger Ahmed Zizo rattled the post with a long-range rocket before Afsha stole the limelight at the death to spark wild celebrations on the Ahly bench.  

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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