Egypt’s best in the final test

Alaa Abdel-Ghani , Tuesday 30 Apr 2024

Two Egyptian clubs have made it to the finals of the two biggest African football club tournaments, reports Alaa Abdel-Ghani

Ahly and Zamalek look forward to snatching the titles of both competitions
Ahly and Zamalek look forward to snatching the titles of both competitions

 

The dynamos of Egyptian football, Ahly and Zamalek, have, and not for the first time, taken their domestic dominance to Africa after reaching the finals of the continent’s two most prestigious club championships.

In the African Champions League, Ahly will be playing Esperance of Tunisia in the final after getting by TP Mazembe of the DR Congo 3-0 on aggregate in the semi-final.

Zamalek reached the final of the African Confederation Cup after defeating Ghanaian upstarts FC Dreams, again 3-0 on aggregate.

In the final, Zamalek will meet Morocco’s RS Berkane who did not need to lift a finger to reach the last stage after their opponent USM Alger of Algeria forfeited their two semi-final games.

The first leg of the Champions League is set for Tunis on 18 May followed by the return in Cairo on 25 May.

The Confederation Cup set-up has Zamalek playing the first leg of the final away from home on 12 May with the second leg taking place in Cairo 19 May.

That the four teams in the two finals are all North Africans underlines the supremacy the region has had over the rest of Africa.

This holds especially true of the Champions League which is a notch higher up the ladder than the Confederation Cup. And especially true of Ahly.

Record 11-time winners Ahly are targeting an unprecedented fourth Champions League crown in five years.

This will also mark the 17th Champions League final in Ahly’s history.

They have also stretched their unbeaten run in the Champions League to 20 games, matching the record set by Esperance.

Not to be totally outdone, the Tunisian giants are chasing a fifth Champions League gold medal.

They became the only team to make it to the final game five straight times, breaking TP Mazembe and Ahly’s record.

And though Zamalek are in the Confederation Cup this year, they have won the Champions League five times.

In the semi-final in the Champions League, after Ahly drew 0-0 against Mazembe in Lubumbashi, it appeared Ahly would have a relatively comfortable outing in the second leg in Cairo but that was not to happen.

The roadblock were five-time winners Mazembe who had ambitions of winning the title for the first time since 2015.

The first half ended scoreless and Joel Beya’s 58th-minute header found the Ahly net only for VAR to rule it out for handball.

Seven minutes later, the momentum shifted in Ahly’s favour when a corner by Ali Maaloul found Mohamed Abdel-Monem’s header that slipped from goalkeeper A.B. Faty’s grasp gave the hosts the crucial lead in the tie.

January signing Wessam Abou Ali doubled Ahly’s advantage in the 83rd minute following a great defence-splitting low pass from Maaloul from the left before Akram Tawfik added a third in stoppage time, slipping the ball in from a tight angle which Faty failed to cover.

Ahly’s win secured the final against Esperance who edged out Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa 1-0 in Pretoria to qualify 2-0 on aggregate.

In the Confederation Cup semi-final, Zamalek ended the dreams of Ghanaian side FC Dreams.

After a goalless first leg in Cairo, Hamza Mathlouthi’s early opener set the stage for a 3-0 Zamalek victory in Kumasi, dismissing the competition’s surprise package.

Samson Akinyoola’s volley and a late Mustafa Shalabi strike put the game away.

The Tunisian defender Mathlouthi had netted in Zamalek’s first leg quarter-final success over Egypt’s Modern Future and Shalabi broke his six-month scoring drought in clinical fashion.

As for Dreams, which announced that entrance to the game would be for free for most supporters, they were hoping to make history by winning the Confederation Cup for the first time since the club’s establishment in 2009.

Making their debut in any continental competition, Dreams became the first Ghanaian club since Hearts and Asante Kotoko in 2004 to reach the semi-finals of the tournament.

With a much longer history behind them, Zamalek are hoping to reach their first continental final since 2019 when they claimed the Confederation Cup title.

 

Winning but not playing: In the final, Zamalek will face a much-rested RS Berkane of Morocco who secured their spot after the second leg of their semi-final clash against Algeria’s USM was called off for the second time in a week.

Two-time winner Berkane were on Wednesday awarded a 3-0 win by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) over USM in the semi-final after the first game was cancelled over a row over playing jerseys.

The second leg in Morocco was again not played at all. USM were in Berkane Municipal Stadium but their players did not leave their dressing room and headed back to their bus and left the stadium.

The row began last week when the Moroccan squad arrived in Algeria ahead of the first leg tie.

Customs officers confiscated Berkane’s shirts on the grounds that they carried a map of Morocco that included the disputed Western Sahara.

The former Spanish colony of Western Sahara is largely controlled by Morocco but claimed by the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, which seeks the territory’s independence.

Algeria broke off diplomatic relations with Morocco in 2021, partly over the issue.

Shortly before the first game USM Alger sporting director Toufik Korichi told Algerian radio that the match would not be played because Berkane refused to take to the pitch in any other shirts.

However, CAF said the club had been wearing the same jerseys since the start of the tournament.

Algerian football federation President Walid Sadi had said he intended to take the case to the International Court of Sport.

 

New World Cup entrees: Esperance and Sundowns will be at next year’s FIFA Club World Cup after reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League.

The two completed the list of qualifiers from Africa who will play at the inaugural 32-team FIFA Club World Cup 2025, becoming the third and fourth CAF teams to book their tickets after Ahly and Wydad of Morocco.

The Club World Cup used to be played annually, with seven teams.

The new Club World Cup will be played every four years starting in the United States, one year before the World Cup which will be hosted by the US, Canada and Mexico.

Sundowns fell short in their bid to reach the Champions League final, but their performance over the past four years have ensured they too will participate at the inaugural edition of the revamped global club event.

 


* A version of this article appears in print in the 2 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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