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Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Getting exciting

Four Egyptian clubs go into the last round of the group stages of African football competitions, with three having made it to the quarter-finals and one hoping to do the same

Inas Mazhar , Tuesday 28 Jan 2020
Ahly vs Etoile

In Group A of the African Champions League, Zamalek of Egypt will be going to the quarter-finals while in Group B, Egyptian club Ahly lead with 10 points but are not assured of qualification.

In the second-tier African Confederation Cup, Egypt’s two representatives in Group A, Pyramids and Masri, have qualified for the quarter-finals.

In the two championships, five games have been played in the group stage with one left.

In the Champions League after the penultimate match day was concluded on Sunday,

former champions TP Mazembe of DR Congo and Zamalek (Group A), Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa and Wydad Casablanca (Group C), defending champions Esperance of Tunisia and Morocco’s Raja (Group D) all secured their quarter-finals places.

Two other former champions Ahly and Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia compete with former runner ups Al Hilal of Sudan for the remaining two tickets in Group B.

Mazembe and holders Esperance confirmed their status as group winners, while it’s yet to be decided between Sundowns and Wydad when they lock horns next weekend.

Group A

Egyptian giants Zamalek and DR Congo counterparts TP Mazembe settled for a goalless draw in Cairo. Having won the title five times each, a lot was expected from both sides, but it was a barren stalemate after a story of rare chances.

Still, Zamalek joined already qualified Mazembe to the knockout stages 24 hours later when Angola’s Primeiro de Agosto only managed an away 1-1 draw at Zambia’s Zesco United. Winston Kalendo gave Zesco the lead after 50 minutes, only for Ary Papel to equalise 20 minutes from time.

Zamalek vs TP Mazembe

The final match day is a mere formality with Mazembe and Zamalek securing the top two spots in that order.

On Saturday, in Lubumbashi, TP Mazembe will take on Zesco United while Primeiro de Agosto will meet Zamalek in Luanda.

Group B

Going to the final match day, it remains the only undecided group, confirming its Group of Death tag. Sudan’s Al Hilal returned from Bulawayo with a priceless away victory at already eliminated Platinum of Zimbabwe to revive their qualification hopes. Substitute Mohamed Eldai scored six minutes from time to raise the Sudanese giants tally to nine points.

In Cairo, record eight-time champions Ahly needed a first half goal from Junior Ajayi to overcome Tunisian rivals Etoile du Sahel. The Egyptian champions overtook Etoile to the top spot with 10 points, forcing a dramatic finale to the group next weekend, where they need a draw at least in Omdurman. Etoile also need a point against Platinum at home, while only victory will send Al Hilal, with nine points, to the quarters.

On Saturday Al Hilal will host Ahly in Omdurman while Etoile du Sahel will take on Platinum in Rades, Tunis.

Group C

Last season’s losing finalists Wydad joined already qualified Mamelodi Sundowns to the next round. The Moroccan giants overcame Algerian neighbours USM Alger 3-1 in Casablanca to move to nine points. Walid Al Karti, Badie Aouk and Kazadi Kasengu scored in the opening half, with Mohamed Meftah scoring a consolation goal for the visitors 10 minutes from time.

South African giants Sundowns scored deep into injury time to avoid defeat at Angola’s Petro de Luanda. Gaston Sirino gave the so-called Brazilians the lead from the spot, only for Ricardo Job to equalise for the hosts in the same fashion. Jacques Tuyisenge gave the hosts a second half lead, but Motjeka Madisha saved the 2016 champions from their first defeat at the last breath.

Sundowns need a home draw with Wydad next weekend to finish as group winners, while only victory for the Moroccans will see them finishing on top.

In Pretoria, Mamelodi Sundowns will face Wydad while USM Alger will clash with Petro de Luanda.

Group D

Holders Esperance of Tunisia continued their unbeaten run in their 20th successive Champions League game, managing a home 2-2 draw to Morocco’s Raja in Rades to guarantee the group’s top spot. Abdel-Raouf Benguit gave the hosts a first half lead, but Raja responded twice through Fabrice Ngah and Badr Banoun after the break. Substitute Fadi Ben Choug scored a few seconds after coming in to save a point for the champions of the past two seasons.

In Kinshasa, DR Congo’s AS Vita enjoyed their first group victory, defeating Algeria’s JS Kabylie 4-1 in what was to be only a morale booster. Djuma Shabani, Yannick Bangala, Ernest Luzolo and Fiston Mayele scored for the Congolese giants, while Rezki Hamroune scored a consolation goal for the visitors.

The final match day games are just going through the motions.

Next for this group is Raja Casablanca taking on AS Vita while JS Kabylie host Esperance.

In the Confederation Cup, in Group A, Masri of Egypt joined their compatriots Pyramids in the quarter-finals after defeating Mauritania’s Nouadhibou 1-0 in Alexandria on Sunday evening. Burkinabe Saidou Simpore scored four minutes from time in what proved to be the game’s lone goal as Masri raised their tally to nine points, three shy from leaders and already qualified Pyramids, and four more than Nigeria’s Rangers with one match to spare. Nouadhibou trails the group with two points.

Ifeanyi George’s goal in the 73rd minute handed debutants Pyramids their first loss in the cup as they went down 1-0 to Rangers who in turn picked up their first win of the group stages.

Pyramids were on a brilliant run of 10 unbeaten matches in their maiden appearance in the competition having won nine and drawn one, but they were punished for a hand-break approach by Rangers who moved to third in Group A with five points.

Having collected 12 points with four straight wins in the group stages, Pyramids, who beat Rangers 3-1 in Enugu in the first leg, were already assured of qualification. Rangers, meanwhile, have had their chance of advancing blown away.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 January, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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