Egypt’s two biggest football clubs are close to reaching the final of the African Champions League thanks to two remarkable victories away from home in the semi-finals.
Ahly defeated Wydad Athletic Club 2-0 while Zamalek got by Raja Casablanca 1-0. Both clubs are from Morocco and the games were played in the North African country.
Cairo Stadium will host the Ahly-Wydad game on Friday 23 October and Zamalek-Raja the next day Saturday as the two Egyptian teams are optimistic of qualifying for the finals. The Cairo archrivals are eager to add a new title to their trophy chest. Ahly have won the Champions League a record eight times; Zamalek have captured five. But neither fans nor journalists will be allowed to cover the semi-finals due to the coronavirus.
At the Complexe Mohamed V in Casablanca on Saturday 17 October through goals from Magdi Afsha and Ali Maaloul from a penalty were enough for Ahly. Afsha’s early opener from a breakaway disrupted Wydad as they were stunned in the fourth minute of the match.
Ahly’s goalkeeper Mohamed Al-Shinnawi saved a penalty kick just a few minutes before half time.
In the second half Maaloul put the game out of Wydad’s reach with a spot kick.
In the first continental club action since the Covid-19 pandemic caused a shutdown of sports seven months ago, Wydad saw their 26-match Champions League unbeaten home record shattered.
Ahly were the last team to beat Wydad on their home turf, in July 2016.
Although Ahly are transitioning after the sudden departure of their Swiss head coach Rene Weiler, South African Pitso Mosimane continued his unbeaten start since being appointed last month.
Ahly need only a draw of any kind or a 1-0 loss in the second leg in Cairo to progress to the final for the 13th time in their history.
“I am very happy with the team’s performance and very optimistic that we will qualify to the final from Cairo,” Ahly President Mahmoud Al-Khatib said. “We had a number of injuries but we overcame them and I am sure we will do our best to reach the final and take the title.”
“I feel disappointed because it’s a tough result at home,” Wydad’s head coach Miguel Gamondi said. “The early goal complicated the game and missing the penalty was even more heartbreaking. We felt exhausted after playing a huge number of games in the domestic league. We did not lose hope yet and will try to overturn the table in Cairo.”
“It was a tough game against a strong opponent who played fiercely after receiving an early goal,” Ahly’s Mosimane said. “I thank our goalkeeper Al-Shinnawi for his penalty save, and all the players for playing to our plan. I’m happy with the result, but I would have been much happier had we scored more goals. We have won nothing yet and have to focus on the return leg till we achieve our target and reach the final.”
Meanwhile, in the other semi-final of the same championship, Zamalek’s Moroccan player Achraf Bencharki was the White Knights hero of the day after scoring his team’s lone goal against recently crowned Botola Pro Champions Raja Club Athletic 1-0 in the first leg of the CAF Champions League semi-final on Sunday 18 October at Complexe Mohamed V in Casablanca.
The former Wydad Club Athletic player headed home the single goal in the match in the 18th minute to give the White Knights a slight advantage heading into next weekend’s return leg tie set for Cairo International Stadium.
Afterwards Zamalek resorted to defence and moving the ball around the pitch while the Moroccans tried to push for an equaliser.
In the second half, Raja players were more spirited and attacked but their trials proved futile.
This was Zamalek’s second win over Raja in three CAF club competition matches. For Raja, this was only their second defeat in 23 games at home in the Champions League.
On the match, Raja’s Jamal Sellami said, “I believe we deserved a draw at least. I thank my players because they gave their all despite the difficult situation we had. I cannot blame any player today and we were the better side all over the game. We still have a chance in the return leg in Cairo and I believe we are still capable of reaching the final.”
“My players played to my instructions and we achieved a good result away from home,” Zamalek’s coach Jaime Pacheco of Portugal said. “We felt exhausted because we had many domestic games in a short time, but we were brave enough to have this game tonight. Nothing is won yet; we have to remain focused in the return leg and achieve our target by going through to the final.”
Pacheco is making his second appearance with Zamalek, taking over from Frenchman Patrice Carteron who left the club suddenly in mid-September.
“I am very satisfied with what the team did,” Mortada Mansour, Zamalek’s president said. “We were missing our experienced players because of injury and sickness. I thank the coach and every single one who helped make the match a real success and I am sure we will make it to the final soon.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 22 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly