Ahly of Egypt have a date with history when they meet Morocco’s Wydad in the final of the African Champions League on 30 May.
The Egyptian giants will be attempting what no continental football club has done before: win the tournament three times in a row.
Ahly have already won the tournament a record 10 times. Going for No 11 might seem humdrum for a club that are five titles ahead of joint second on the list, cross-town rivals Zamalek and TP Mazembe of the DR Congo.
Still, the Champions League is the singular football club showpiece on the continent and having a monopoly on it does not make it less prestigious. The winner of the tournament earns a berth to the FIFA Club World Cup and also faces the winner of the Confederation Cup in the following season’s Super Cup.
The Champions League’s prize money, $2.5 million for the winner and $1.25 million for the runner-up, is the richest club competition in Africa.
If all that incentive is not enough, Ahly and their fans have the extra motivation of seeing the club win a record hat-trick of consecutive crowns.
Ahly’s South African coach Pitso Mosimane believes his club can make history. “I am confident that we will win the CAF Champions League,” Mosimane said. “We won back-to-back titles in the past two years and 10 times in total. So why not win the 11th title?”
What could derail Mosimane and Ahly’s grand plan is their recent domestic league form. They went four games without a win, securing only three points during that stretch.
They were close to losing their most recent match at the time of writing, against Enppi on Saturday, save for a stoppage-time double from left back Ali Maaloul which helped Ahly to a 2-1 comeback victory.
Ahly will also have to cope with playing in Morocco, Wydad territory. The 67,000-seat Mohammed V Stadium, venue for the one-game final, was announced, not before the tournament began as is normally the case, but when the semi-final stage had been reached. The late, late decision obviously brought out loud accusations by Egyptians that the African soccer body was favouring Wydad.
Ahly have asked the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to overturn the decision, citing the need for a neutral venue, but it does not look like a verdict is forthcoming anytime soon.
At least Ahly will have key midfield trio Aliou Dieng, Amr Al-Sulaya, and Hamdi Fathi back from injury.
This is Wydad’s third Champions League final in six seasons. In 2017, in the only encounter between the two in the final of the championship, Wydad won 2-1 on aggregate when it was a two-legged home and away affair. The first leg in Alexandria ended 1-1 while Wydad defeated Ahly in Casablanca 1-0 for their second Champions League triumph.
Wydad’s players are aged 25 on average. The club have five foreigners and nine national team players.
Wydad are currently first in the Moroccan league with 53 points, four points ahead of second place Raja Casablanca. Six matches remain for each.
Wydad are one of three Moroccan clubs to have never been relegated.
The club have produced iconic football names on the continent, including Badou Zaki, Noureddin Naybet, and Aziz Bouderbala.
South African Victor Gomes is the referee. No stranger to Egyptian football, Gomes, 39, adjudicated the Africa Cup of Nations final in February which Senegal won after beating Egypt on penalties. Gomes refereed an Ahly-Wydad duel in the return leg of the Champions League semi-final in 2020, which Ahly won 3-1.
Gomes was recently picked as one of South Africa’s representatives at this year’s World Cup in Qatar.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 May, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.