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Friday, 16 April 2021

African Champions League final: Key battles in Ahly-Zamalek clash

Ahly are playing for their ninth title after reaching their third final in four years, while Zamalek are seeking their sixth title, their first since 2002.

Karim Farouk , Thursday 26 Nov 2020
Ahly-Zamalek
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Egyptian giants Ahly and Zamalek will clash in a historical Champions League final on Friday at Cairo stadium. Both sides have enjoyed great campaigns and are now just a step away from glory. Ahram Online sheds light on some key battles that could lead to victory in this highly anticipated game.

Mostafa Mohamed vs Rami Rabia/Yasser Ibrahim

Zamalek striker Mostafa Mohamed has been in stellar form this season, scoring 19 goals including 8 in the Champions League. The 23-year-old marksman has progressed and matured enough this season to become Egypt's number one striker. A powerful attacker, dominant in the air, and with impressive finishing abilities, Mohamed is the ideal player to exploit some of Ahly's defensive frailties.

Rami Rabia, who has just recovered from an injury, or his replacement Yasser Ibrahim will have to be at his best to contain Mohamed, but also to marshal the defence in a way that that does not give wide players enough space to break through. A challenging predicament given how much harm Mohamed could do if he slips through the cracks like what happened in Zamalek’s 3-1 August win against Ahly. It is also important for Ahly's defence not to focus completely on Mohamed or else they will risk letting the wingers dominate the flanks.

Achraf Bencharki vs Mohamed Hani

Ahly right back Mohamed Hani had a tough night when Ahly lost 3-1 back in August, as Zamalek's forward Achraf Bencharki greatly outclassed him. The Moroccan enjoyed one of his best games in Zamalek, scoring once and assisting another player, leaving Hani trailing behind him. Bencharki has been Zamalek's deadliest weapon this season, and has scored 7 Champions League goals, including an away goal against Raja in the semi-final that paved Zamalek’s way to this historic final.

The 26-year-old talented winger is an intelligent player, and his movements will trouble Ahly's defence. Hani will surely have to up his game to counter him; coach Pitso Mosimane must ensure that the defender does not end up in a situation where he is going toe-to-toe with the infamous winger.

Ali Maaloul vs Ahmed Zizo

What happens down the left-hand side of the pitch will play a key role in the outcome of the game.

Left back Ali Maaloul is one of Ahly's most influential players. The 30-year-old full back is making frequent forays into opposition territory, providing an abundance of crosses and goal-scoring opportunities. He has forged a threatening partnership with Nigerian winger Junior Ajayi that has proven devastating for rivals’ defences.

On the other side of the pitch, Zamalek is relying on the mobility of their tireless winger Ahmed "Zizo" Sayed and his ability to track back to provide support for his right back whether it would be Hazem Emam or Ahmed Eid. Zizo emerged as an instrumental player for the Whites' this season, not only for his crucial goals but mostly due to his tactical abilities that help the team control the play. The game could be decided on who can push the other back more down the left side and limit their opponent's effectiveness going forward.

The Midfield Battle

Ahly's midfield has been the reason behind the team's success this season, dictating play and covering up spaces at the back.

The team has been dealt a significant blow with Malian international midfielder Aliou Dieng testing positive for COVID-19. The Reds will, surely, miss his strength and ability to make quick forward runs to mount quick attacks, however his replacement Hamdi Fathi is regarded as a box-to-box talent.

The midfield battle between Ahly and Zamalek will be one of contrasting styles. The Reds are relying on the fluidity and harmony of their game, while their rivals rely on the individual prowess of Tunisian maestro Ferjani Sassi, and the defensive strength of Tarek Hamed with his trademark ability to break the attacks.

With the Whites expecting to maintain their cautious approach in closing down spaces, it will be up to Ahly's playmaker Mohamed "Afsha" Magdi to move between the lines to carve out spaces in their compact defence.

Zamalek coach Jaime Pacheco is currently facing the dilemma of replacing attacking midfielder Youssef "Obama" Ibrahim, who has also been infected with COVID-19, to provide more cover in the midfield without sacrificing an attacker.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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