All to play for

Alaa Abdel-Ghani , Tuesday 23 Apr 2024

Ahly are gunning for an appearance in the finals of the African Champions League but must first get by former multiple champions TP Mazembe, reports Alaa Abdel-Ghani

This weekend, Ahly and Zamalek are looking forward to reaching the CAF Champions league and Confeder
This weekend, Ahly and Zamalek are looking forward to reaching the CAF Champions league and Confederations Cup finals

 

It’s all on the line in the African Champions League as Egypt’s Ahly aim to reach the final of the continent’s premier football club tournament.

Ahly are the defending champions, have won the event a record 11 times, and in the first leg of the semi-final, managed to come away with a scoreless tie against TP Mazembe of DR Congo in Lubumbashi last Saturday.

The second leg will be held in Cairo International Stadium on 26 April with an expected attendance of 50,000 supporters.

Whoever comes out the winner on aggregate will face either Esperance of Tunisia or Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa in a two-legged final.

Esperance edged Sundowns 1-0 in the first leg semi-final played in Tunisia. The tournament still goes with home and away goals as opposed to its European counterpart which no longer calculates away goals as a possible two goals.

While Mazembe will be disappointed with not having found the back of the net at home, the five-time champions are very much still in the mix.

Ahly and TP Mazembe were facing each other in the knockout phase of the Champions League for the very first time, after clashing four times in the group stage in 2002 and 2012, winning two, losing once and drawing one.

The Egyptian giants are attempting to reach the Champions League final for the seventh time in eight seasons.  

Ahly are appearing in the semi-finals of the tournament for the 15th time, more than any other team, and for the fifth season in a row, their longest ever run.

Qualifying round included, Ahly are unbeaten in their last 18 matches in Champions League (W13 D5), their last defeat dating back to March 2023 in an away match against Sundowns (5-2).

Ahly goalkeeper Mustafa Shobeir, deputising for the injured Mohamed Al-Shinnawi, has kept a clean sheet in the six matches he’s played.

On the other semi-side, Esperance, bidding to win the Champions League for the fifth time, will play Sundowns also on Friday in Pretoria in the pivotal second leg.

Esperance took a slender 1-0 advantage at the Stade Olympique Hammadi Agrebi on Saturday four minutes before half-time when 26-year-old Brazilian striker Yan Sasse rounded goalkeeper Ronwen Williams before slotting into an empty net after a clever through ball from Rodrigo Rodrigues.

In the semi-final first leg of the second-tier African Confederation Cup, akin to the Europa League, another Egyptian club, Zamalek, were held to another scoreless tie, but this time in Egypt.

Zamalek, which should have been buoyed by a 2-1 win against cross-town rivals Ahly in a league game, could make their dominance count as they were held to a goalless draw by Ghana’s Dreams FC in Cairo on Sunday.

The North African giants are aiming for their second Confederation Cup title, having previously lifted the trophy in 2019, while Dreams are determined to make history by winning the Confederation Cup for the first time since the club’s establishment in 2009.

Making their debut in any continental competition, Dreams became the first Ghanaian club since Hearts and Asante Kotoko in 2004 to reach the semi-finals of the tournament.

The return leg is scheduled for on Sunday 28 April to take place at Baba Yara Sports Stadium in Kumasi, with the winner advancing to face either Algeria’s USM Alger or RS Berkane of Morocco in the final.

The winner of that encounter is unknown because the game was not played.

 

Disputed jerseys cancel game: The match between USM of Algeria and Berkane in the first leg of the Confederation Cup semis was called off on Sunday due to a dispute over the Moroccan team jerseys.

Algerian authorities at Houari Boumediene Airport reportedly confiscated the Berkane jerseys which featured the full map of Morocco, including its southern provinces.

Relations between Algeria and Morocco have been tense for decades, particularly due to the contentious issue of the disputed Western Sahara.

While Morocco considers it an integral part of its kingdom, Algeria has supported the Polisario movement, which seeks independence for the region.

Reports say the Algerian authorities refused to release the jerseys to the Moroccan side, leading to the game’s cancellation, arguing that the jerseys violated Algeria’s stance on the disputed territory of Western Sahara as part of Morocco.

The Moroccan team did not appear on the pitch alongside the hosts and the referee.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) Clubs committee requested the Algerian Football Federation to coordinate with the Algerian authorities to release the Moroccan team’s jerseys.

However, the Algerian Football Federation appealed the decision, arguing that the jerseys contained a map not approved by the United Nations.

The appeal committee upheld the decision of the Clubs committee, which deemed the Moroccan team’s jerseys featuring the full map of Morocco as legitimate.

As of writing, no decision has been made regarding the fate of the game. Its rescheduling or cancellation remains uncertain.

“Algeria’s response is strict,” stressed the Algerian Football Federation. “We refuse to allow the Berkane club to play under this jersey. Our position is clear and we will not back down, and we are ready for anything.”

The Algerian federation and USM, the defending champion of the 2023 edition, will reportedly appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to avoid elimination from the competition.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 25 April, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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