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Tuesday, 09 March 2021

Zamalek come from behind to beat Raja and set up all-Egyptian final in Champions League

Zamalek defeat Morocco's Raja 3-1 to set up a mouthwatering clash against Ahly, the first Champions League final to feature two teams from the same country

Hatem Maher , Wednesday 4 Nov 2020
Zamalek v Raja
Ferjani Sassi (R) celebrates his goal against Raja (Ahram)
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A goal from Ferjani Sassi and an impressive double from striker Mostafa Mohamed sent Zamalek to the African Champions League final with a comeback 3-1 win at home Raja on Wednesday to set up a mouthwatering final against Cairo rivals Ahly.

Zamalek paid for an ultra-cautious approach when Raja, trailing 1-0 from the first leg, levelled the aggregate score two minutes into the second half via a deflected shot from Congolese striker Ben Malango.

But having thrown caution to the wind following Raja's goal, Zamalek demonstrated their potent attacking force.

Tunisian midfielder Sassi, back to the fold after recovering from the coronavirus, equalised with a superb striker two minutes after the hour mark before Mostafa Mohamed netted a brace in the space of three minutes in the dying stages to give Zamalek a 4-1 aggregate win.

The White Knights, who are chasing their first crown since winning the last of their five titles in 2002, will meet record eight-time winners Ahly in the first Champions League final to feature teams from the same country.

The anticipated game will take place behind closed doors at Alexandria's Borg El-Arab Stadium on 27 November.

Return of defensive duo

Zamalek welcomed back regular defensive duo Mahmoud Alaa and Mahmoud Hamdi after both had recovered from injuries, with Sassi replacing deep-lying forward Youssef Ibrahim in an unfamiliar advanced role.

Raja also had a host of regulars available after they recovered from the highly-contagious COVID-19 but missed first-choice goalie Anas Zniti, whose last test turned up a positive result.

Despite boasting the likes of wingers Achraf Bencharki and Ahmed Zizo as well as in-form frontman Mohamed, Zamalek seemed content to just sit back in a bore first half, inviting pressure from their opponents.

Raja controlled possession but their territorial dominance resulted in only a couple of chances, with Sanad Al Warfali having a header smothered by Mohamed Abou-Gabal before the keeper made a brilliant reflex stop to keep out a cross that was deflected off Hamdi and looked to be sailing into the net.  

Zamalek were punished for their needless over-reliance on defence when Ben Malango's shot wrong-footed Abou-Gabal after deflecting off left-back Abdallah Gomaa in the 47th minute.

Sensing an upset in Cairo, the hosts sharpened their knives and poured forward, restoring their aggregate lead in the 62nd minute.

Sassi's initial effort was blocked by a defender and fell to Bencharki, who laid off the ball to the Tunisian on the edge of the area to smash a brilliant shot with the outside of his right foot in off the post.

With Raja needing a goal to advance, they attempted to lay siege to Zamalek's area, only to leave gaps at the back which the Cairo giants ruthlessly exposed in the final half hour to secure a convincing win.

In the 85th minute, Mohamed rose unmarked to send a bullet header past keeper Mohamed Bouamira before ending the match as a contest three minutes later, chesting down a diagonal cross from Sassi to break clear and fire home.

Bencharki found the net with a dinked effort in stoppage time but the goal was disallowed for offside. It mattered little as Zamalek advanced to their first final since 2016.

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

 
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