The referee might as well blow the final whistle now.
Barring a spectacular collapse, Cairo giants Ahly are likely headed for the final of this year’s African Champions League after running riot against ES Setif of Algeria.
Last week, Ahly did a demolition job on Setif, winning 4-0 in the first leg of the semi-final played in Cairo.
The second leg is scheduled for 14 May in Algeria.
If Ahly make it to the final, their likely opponent will be Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca after they beat Angola’s Petro Atletico 3-1 away in the first leg of their semi-final on Saturday.
In Cairo’s first leg, in Al-Salam Stadium, South African forward Percy Tau scored twice for Ahly and assisted on two more goals for the evening’s MVP.
Setif made life for Ahly even easier, playing with 10 men for 55 minutes.
With that, Ahly have a foot and a few more toes in the final. Shock comebacks do happen. The world was recently witness to the miracle run of Real Madrid who clawed themselves back from light years afar, and with very little time left, to beat PSG, Chelsea and Manchester City on their way to the Champions League final.
But invariably, a squad that comes back from the grave must be strong in skills and mind, must be lucky, are usually playing at home and usually facing a team that implodes from all the pressure. So far, Setif’s home advantage is what they can count on most.
Ahly are the defending champions of this tournament, and are trying to become the first club to win it three times in succession.
They have won it a record 10 times. Should they advance to the final, it will be for a record-extending 15th time.
Making matters worse for Setif, Ahly rarely lose when they smell blood, winning 13 of 24 semi-finals and drawing seven while losing only four.
Ahly and Setif entered the semi-finals not in the best of shape. The Egyptian squad could only finish second in the group stage, losing twice to South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns, and got by Raja Club Athletic of Morocco 3-2 on aggregate in the quarter-finals.
Ahly are also on a three-game winless streak in the Egyptian league. They currently have 33 points after 14 games, good for third place. Leaders Zamalek have 41 points but have played three games more.
Setif eliminated Tunisian giants Esperance in the quarters but are currently mid-table in their league.
Setif’s history suggests they should have done better against Ahly. They are two-time African champions and before their latest clash, Setif had beaten Ahly twice and lost and drawn once.
As Ahly chase continental records, their South African coach Pitso Mosimane is looking to carve a niche of his own. Mosimane would like to equal the record of most African Champions League wins, currently held by Ahly’s former coach, Manuel Jose of Portugal, who bagged the title four times. Mosimane’s Ahly have won it the last two times. He also won the crown with Sundowns in 2016, defeating Ahly’s crosstown rivals Zamalek.
However, he lost the league title last season to Zamalek after Ahly had won it seven years in a row. It looks like Mosimane must win the Champions League and the domestic league if he is to stay on the good side of Ahly’s millions of extremely demanding fans.
Wydad’s victory over Petro Atletico was not as decisive as Ahly’s triumph but a 3-1 away win is more than adequate. The two teams will meet again in the second leg of their semi-final at Morocco’s Stade Mohamed V on 14 May to determine who goes to the one-match final, scheduled to be played on 29 May at a venue to be announced.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 May, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.