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Zamalek secure exciting comeback win over Esperance to take first-leg advantage

Despite conceding an early goal, Zamalek record a convincing 3-1 victory that put them in pole position to reach the African Champions League semis

Hatem Maher , Friday 28 Feb 2020
Soccer Football - African Champions League - Quarter Final First Leg - Zamalek v Esperance Sportive de Tunis - Cairo International Stadium, Cairo, Egypt - February 28, 2020 Zamalek's Achraf Bencharki scores their second goal REUTERS

Egypt's Zamalek came from a goal down to defeat Tunisia's Esperance 3-1 for the second time in less than two weeks on Friday, taking a first-leg advantage in the African Champions League quarters following an exciting encounter in Cairo.

Defending champions Esperance had the better of the early exchanges and deservedly went ahead after 27 minutes when Raouf Benguit finished off a sweeping move as the visitors were rewarded for their early dominance.

However, Zamalek roared back in style, with Moroccan deep-lying forward Achraf Bencharki stealing the show in the same manner of his virtuous display in the African Super Cup game earlier this month, when the White Knights defeated Esperance by the same scoreline in Qatar.

An unstoppable long-range volley from Moroccan winger Mohamed Ounajem quickly brought Zamalek level before Bencharki put them ahead on 72 minutes, with his goal sparking furious protests from Esperance, who had a man sent off as tensions boiled over.

Demanding that the goal be disallowed for what they deemed a foul by Bencharki on Khalil Chemmam in the build-up, Esperance players harangued the referee, with Chamseddine Dhaouadi pulling the shirt of referee Radwan Gayed.

The Moroccan official sent off Mohamed Ali Ben Romdhane in an apparent case of mistaken identity, with Esperance eventually paying the price of playing with one man down as Zamalek added the third in stoppage time.

Bencharki was tripped after weaving his way into the area, with central defender and spot-kick specialist Mahmoud Alaa dispatching the resulting penalty.

Zamalek will be favourites to reach the last eight when they meet Esperance, winners of the past two editions of the Champions League, in Rades in the second leg next Friday.

Explosive start

Unlike the Super Cup game, Esperance made an explosive start, wasting a couple of goal-scoring chances inside the first six minutes as their high pressing game unsettled the hosts.

Just 14 seconds into the game, Mohamed Ali Ben Hammouda had a close-range shot smothered by Zamalek keeper Mohamed Abou-Gabal after a defensive clearance rebounded into his path.

On six minutes, lively Libyan forward Hamdou Elhouni curled a shot just wide from the edge of the area after intercepting a poor back pass from off-form Tunisian midfielder Ferjani Sassi.

Esperance got the opener they deserved in the 27th minute, Elhouni laying off the ball for the onrushing Benguit to plant a superb low shot into the bottom corner.

Zamalek stepped up a gear after falling behind, putting Esperance on the back foot after throwing caution to the wind.

Mahmoud Alaa headed against the bar from close range before Ounajem made amends with a sublime piledriver that nestled into the roof of the net past Moez Ben Cherifia.

It was one-way traffic in the second half, with winger Ahmed Sayed missing a sitter after a flick-on from Alaa before Bencharki sparked wild celebrations in the crowd, holding off Chemmam to swivel and hit an angled shot in off the far post after striker Mostafa Mohamed chested a long ball into his path.

Zamalek still made the most of their numerical advantage in the latter stages to add the third at the death and secure a much-needed advantage.

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