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As the African Champions League closes in on the knockout stage, some Egyptian fans are calm while others are tense, reports Inas Mazhar

As the African Champions League closes in on the knockout stage, some Egyptian fans are calm while others are tense, reports Inas Mazhar, Tuesday 6 Apr 2021
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With one game left in the group stage of the African Champions League, Ahly of Egypt have made it to the quarter-finals while Zamalek, another Egyptian club, revived their hopes of making it to the last eight themselves.

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Match day six games are to be played on 9 and 10 April which will ultimately reveal the eight teams who will secure their berth in the knock-out stage of the most prestigious African football club competition.

Ahly, Simba, Sundowns, Esperance and Wydad are going to the quarters regardless of the last games’ results.

While Ahly already secured their seat among the last eight teams, Zamalek are struggling to join their local and continental arch-rival Ahly. Both teams have a huge advantage playing their final decisive games at home in Cairo Stadium.

In Group A, Ahly are scheduled to take on Tanzania’s Simba in Cairo on Friday while DR Congo’s AS Vita are to face Sudan’s Al- Merrikh on the same day in Kinshasa.

With one game left, Simba have 13 points, Ahly eight, Vita four and Al-Merrikh two points. The first two are going to the quarter-finals; the latter two to an early shower.

Group B matches will also take place on Friday with TP Mazembe of the DR Congo playing against Al-Hilal of Sudan in Lubumbashi, while Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa faces CR Belouizdad of Algeria in Tshwane.

Groups C and D are scheduled to be played on Saturday. Group C will see Morocco’s Wydad taking on Angola’s Petro Atletico in Casablanca, whereas Guinea’s Horoya host South Africa’s Kaizer Chiefs in Nongo.

Group D will have Tunisia’s Esperance playing host to neighbours MC Alger of Algeria while the Egyptian giants Zamalek face Senegal’s Teungueth in Cairo.

Teams finishing in second place will play seeded squads that finished first in other groups. The quarter-final match-ups have not yet been determined.

The Egyptians’ most recent games, last weekend, were played away with Ahly earning a draw and Zamalek winning in Algeria for the first time in their long history. The two results comforted Ahly fans and revived the hopes of Zamalek qualifying for the quarter-final stage.

In Group D, again with one match left, Esperance are in the lead with 10 points, MC Alger have eight, Zamalek five and Teungueth four points. If Zamalek win and Alger lose, they will both finish with eight points but Zamalek will go through because of the better face-to-face encounters.

Ahly’s defenders Badr Benoun and Yasser Ibrahim scored to tie late against Simba 2-2 and spare the blushes of title-holders Ahly, and Kaizer Chiefs of South Africa won with nine men on a dramatic CAF Champions League match day 5.

Four minutes into injury time, Ibrahim equalised after Benoun converted a penalty as Ahly snatched a 2-2 Group A draw away to bottom club Al-Merrikh of Sudan in Omdurman, sealing a quarter-final place for the Egyptian team.

The Sudanese team had recently hired English coach Lee Clark, taking a two-goal lead by half-time against record nine-time African champions Ahly. Ramadan Agab scored his first Champions League goal of the season and Saifeldin Malik his sixth to leave Ahly staring at a second away loss in the section.

A half-time tongue lashing from South African coach Pitso Mosimane rejuvenated Ahly and Moroccan Benoun restored hope with his 81st-minute penalty before Ibrahim became the unlikely saviour with a header, leaving the celebrating Sudanese team and fans in bitter disappointment.

According to cafonline, the second match in the same group saw Clatous Chama starred for Simba, the surprise side of this Champions League, by scoring twice and setting up a goal for fellow Zambian Larry Bwalya before a crowd restricted to 10,000 because of the coronavirus. Before Chama scored his first goal on the stroke of half-time, Mozambican Luis Miquissone had given Simba a lead that was short-lived as Zemanga Soze levelled within two minutes.

The fifth round results of Group A confirmed Ahly advance to the knockout stage as runners-up, after Simba of Tanzania trounced Vita Club of the Democratic Republic of Congo 4-1 in Dar es Salaam to seal first place. Ahly had lost their first-leg 1-0 to Simba in their first leg game which was held at the National Stadium in Tanzania.

In Group C, Kaizer Chiefs edged understrength Wydad Casablanca of Morocco 1-0 in Soweto despite having Nigerian goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi sent off on 40 minutes and Serb forward Samir Nurkovic dismissed one minute from time. The South African outfit can crown a first group appearance by reaching the quarter-finals from Group C if they win or force a score draw away to Horoya of Guinea next Saturday. While Chiefs were defying the odds against Wydad, a second-minute Sekou Camara goal earned Horoya a 1-0 win over Petro Luanda in Angola.

Previously winless Zamalek of Egypt upset second-place MC Alger of Algeria 2-0 in the same section through first-half goals from Youssef ‘Obama’ Ibrahim and Shikabala in Algiers. The Egyptian giants, last year’s finalists, revived their hopes of qualifying for the quarter-finals.

Though the victory saw Zamalek move to five points, three behind second placed Alger in Group D, the Egyptians must win their last match of the group against Teungueth of Senegal on Saturday and hope Alger are beaten by Esperance. Zamalek fans are optimistic after former coach Patrice Carteron recently returned to lead the team after a one-year absence. The club’s officials and fans have faith in the Frenchman and his coaching staff in taking Zamalek to the knock-out stage.

The Senegalese team ensured they picked up at least one win from the group, coming from a goal down to win 2-1 against the Tunisian league leaders in Dakar. Mohamed Ali Ben Romdhane had given Esperance the lead with a well struck free kick, but Teungueth rallied to equalise before half time through Serigne Niang, while Diop scored the winner that took them off the bottom spot.

Romdhane opened the scoring with an exquisite free kick into the top left corner after 28 minutes. However, the home side were level after 37 minutes when Niang scored with an overhead kick after a cross from the left was deflected to give the ball some elevation.

Esperance almost went back into the lead just 38 seconds into the second half when a cross from the left found William Togui well placed a yard off goal, but a slight touch by a defender put him off the ball and his eventual tap in from close range went over the bar.

Accordingly, Egyptian fans would love to have their two teams featuring among the top eight and maybe later witness a repeat of last season’s all-Egyptian final when Ahly beat Zamalek 2-1 for their eighth African Champions League title.

Zamalek have won the Champions League five times but the last trophy was in 2002.

It is also the last weekend of the Confederation Cup group stage as Pyramids of Egypt lost 2-0 in their away game to Morocco’s Raja Club Athletic in Casablanca. An own goal from Egypt’s veteran goalkeeper Sherif Ekrami and a Ben Malango strike earned Raja Club Athletic the victory over last year’s runners-up Pyramids. The win secured for the Moroccan side their grip on the Group D standings.

Raja have now increased their tally to nine points from three matches retaining their full mark record while Pyramids received their first loss of this season’s group phase. This is Pyramid’s second participation in the Confederation as they made their debut campaign only last season when they astonishingly went all the way to the final. Losing the title to Moroccan side Burkane last season was attributed to their lack of experience as debutants, but still they earned huge praise.

Twenty-three minutes into the game, the home team had sealed the victory. They took the lead after 15 minutes when keeper Ekrami pushed Abdelilah Madkour’s spinning shot back into his own net as he dived to his left to try and pick out the effort, even though the shot was wide. Seven minutes later, Malango netted a superb goal from inside the box on the volley to affirm his team’s superiority with a 2-0 lead.

Pyramids had been showing offensive play, which saw former Ahly star Ramadan Sobhi shooting attempt being cleared off the line while Islam Al-Sayed’s follow up on the rebound ended up in a wild shot which went over.

Pyramids were better in the second half, as they came back stronger and sought to get themselves back into the match with two opportunities to score. But two minutes after the break, the Moroccan keeper saved a rasping shot from Al-Sayed while defender Omar Gaber had a shot on the outside of his foot go wide from inside the box.

Aiming to adjust the result, Pyramids attacked in full force as Gaber was brought off for striker John Antwi. However, it was too late.

Pyramids, who opened their Group D campaign with wins over Tanzania’s Namungo and Zambia’s Nkana, lie second on six points, three behind Raja with three matches left.

Elsewhere, and as reported by cafonline, in Thies, Senegalese side Jaraaf picked up their first victory of the group phase when they beat Burkina Faso’s Salitas 2-0 at the Stade Lat-Dior. First half goals from Albert Diene and Papa Paye handed the Senegalese side three vital points that took them to third in Group C with four points, same as second placed Tunisian side Etoile du Sahel who played to a barren draw with CS Sfaxien, also of Tunisia, in the other group match in Rades.

In a game that was devoid of many scoring chances, Sfaxien retained their hold on the top spot, just a point above second and third.

There were a few scoring chances in the second half, Ahmed Ben Ouannes having a shot inside the box saved for Etoile while Sfaxien’s Firas Chouat had a stunning header go inches wide off a free kick. In the final 10 minutes of the game, Sfaxien’s Alaa Ghram had a shot from the edge of the area clip the upright.

Group C of the Confederation Cup, a tier below the Champions League, looks tight with Sfaxien leading the pack on five points, one more than Etoile and Jaraaf, while Salitas is fourth with three points, with all doors being kept open for the second round of games.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 April, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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