Preview: Different challenge as Ahly eye history-making CL triumph

Hatem Maher , Sunday 29 May 2022

In the past two African Champions League editions, Ahly proved adept in negotiating knockout ties and going all the way. On Monday, a different challenge awaits them as they eye a history-making triumph in an anticipated final against Morocco's Wydad.

Ahly s forward Percy Tau (L) celebrates with defender Ali Maaloul after scoring the fourth goal during the CAF Champions League semi-final match between Ahly and Algeria s ES Setif at the al-Salam stadium in Cairo on May 7, 2022 (AFP)


Ahly are seeking to become the first team to win a hat-trick of straight Champions League crowns, and in Pitso Mosimane they boast a shrewd coach who masterminded their past two triumphs with panache.

In the 2020 final, they claimed a remarkable 2-1 victory over perennial Egyptian rivals Zamalek at Cairo's International Stadium, a venue both teams share, and last year they crushed South Africa's Kaizer Chiefs 3-0 at the Mohammed V Stadium in Casablanca.

The Mohammed V Stadium also hosts this year's final, a decision that did not go down well with Ahly, simply because it's the home venue of Wydad -- their final opponents.

This effectively means that Ahly will have to overcome Wydad away from home in a one-off final. Although tickets are allocated equally between both sides, Wydad's fans are likely to outnumber the small Ahly contingent that made the trip to Casablanca.

The Red Devils, who are chasing a record-extending 11th triumph, failed in their attempts to have the game moved to a "neutral venue" after CAF said Morocco was the only bidder, but they insisted they are no strangers to tough challenges.

"We can play anywhere, and this is the reason why we are here in Morocco," Mosimane told the pre-match news conference.

"I am totally focused on the match, but this does not mean that the outer factors cannot affect the game, such as the fans and the stadium.

"We are Al Ahly and we believe in our chances to win, despite the difficulties that we face. Wydad are a big team and they have a great history. We are playing against them at their home ground, but we are here to represent Al Ahly, who have always been capable of competing and winning during any circumstances."

Personal glory

Mosimane has not lost a single knockout clash since he took charge of Ahly in October 2020, winning nine matches and drawing three.

He is out for personal glory as a win over Wydad will help him move level with Ahly's iconic boss Manuel Jose on four Champions League crowns -- a record in the continent.

The 57-year-old, whose Mamelodi Sundowns side beat Zamalek 3-1 on aggregate in the 2016 final, will also cement his status as one of Ahly's best ever coaches should they win, having made an instant impact at a club that, prior to his arrival, had not tasted Champions League glory since 2013.

Ahly overcame Wydad with an impressive 5-1 aggregate win in the 2020 semis. However, Wydad emerged the winner the only time both sides clashed in the Champions League final, beating Ahly 2-1 on aggregate in 2017.

"We are facing a team that we respect a lot, as they managed to reach the final several times before. Also, I have a great relationship with Wydad's president and most of the players, but I came here to defend Al Ahly's name and my career with this prestigious club," Mosimane added.

Ahly welcome back some key players from injury, including midfield trio Hamdi Fathi, Amr El-Sulaya and Aliou Dieng. However, they will have to do without regular central defender Mohamed Abdel-Moneim, who has not yet recovered from a groin complaint.

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

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