The African Super Cup, which was postponed due to Covid-19 measures and flight lockdowns, will at last see the light of day tomorrow Friday 28 May in a clash between the winner of the 2019-2020 Total CAF Champions League, Ahly of Egypt and the winner of the 2019-2020 Total CAF Confederation Cup, Renaissance Sportive de Berkane of Morocco, at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Qatar.
Upon arrival in Doha, both teams and their officials were placed in a “bio-bubble”. This includes no contact with people who are outside the biologically safe environment prior to the match. It is the first match in the history of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to adopt a full bio-bubble system since the start of the pandemic last year.
The Qatari capital Doha hosted the two previous editions of the Total CAF Super Cup and will be once again the host of the annual one-match playoff.
The match was originally scheduled to be played in August 2020, however, it was delayed as a result of the pandemic.
If the score is tied at the end of regulation, extra time will not be played, and the penalty shootout will be used to determine the winner.
The winner of the Super Cup receives $200,000 in prize money while the loser gets $150,000.
Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup, the first to be staged in the Middle East.
Ahly’s football director Sayed Abdel-Hafiz told the press that the team had started training upon their arrival in Doha “as the game against Morocco’s RS Berkane won’t be easy because they are the champions of the Confederation Cup”, which acts as Africa’s second-tier international club competition.
“The players are training hard and doing their best to be able to recapture the African Super Cup trophy” that has been missing from Ahly’s war chest since 2014.
Ahly’s star left-back, Tunisian Ali Maaloul, is ready to take part in the game against RS Berkane after recovering from a hamstring injury.
The Tunisian international has been out of action since picking up the injury in Ahly’s 2-0 loss to Bayern Munich in the FIFA Club World Cup semi-final on 8 February.
Ahly, who have a record six Super Cup wins, claimed the Champions League for a record ninth time after defeating Egyptian arch-rivals Zamalek 2-1 in the final in November last year, while RS Berkane, who have never won the Super Cup, won the Confederation Cup at the expense of Egyptian team Pyramids FC.
Zamalek are the defending African Super Cup champions.
On the other hand, Ahly will face Esperance of Tunisia in the semi-finals of the 2021 CAF Champions League after beating Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa 3-1 in the quarter-finals on aggregate, while Esperance defeated CR Belouizdad of Algeria 3-2 on penalties.
“Our road to the title is not easy as we have faced and will face tough opponents but we have only one choice: to play well and win,” Abdel-Hafiz said.
“We will do our best against RS Berkane on Friday to win the CAF Super Cup title and make our fans celebrate,” Taher Mohamed Taher, Ahly’s newest striker talent, said. “We are working hard to win the Super Cup, as it has been a while since we last won it. Also, this will add another achievement to the current team, which managed to win the CAF Champions League trophy and the bronze medal in the 2020 FIFA Club World Cup,” Taher said.
Meanwhile, South African giants Mamelodi Sundowns issued an apology to Ahly’s South African coach Pitso Mosimane for “the improper conduct” of some of their supporters before their Champions League game last week.
Ahly’s bus was stopped by angry Sundowns fans while en route to the stadium before the quarter-final second-leg clash in Pretoria, with supporters holding aloft placards emblasoned with obscenities against Mosimane.
Mosimane led Sundowns to a host of titles during a highly-successful eight-year reign before taking charge of Ahly in October last year.
“We received complaints by supporters of improper conduct and insults but Mamelodi Sundowns supporters should under no circumstances, disrespect, insult or behave in the manner they did and must at all times stay true to our values and principles. We therefore want to apologise to Ahly and those associated with the club,” a statement on the Sundowns website said.
“Mamelodi Sundowns will institute an investigation and appropriate action will be taken against those supporters whose conduct was improper and contrary to the values and principles that we adhere to.
“We remain dedicated to maintaining the good relations, mutual respect and mutual commitment that exists between the leaders of our two clubs and all our stakeholders.”
Mosimane, the 56-year-old tactician, said he didn’t deserve the ill-treatment he got from a section of Sundowns fans.
“There were people swearing at me, swearing at my mother. I said to myself, ‘what else I should have done for this team to get the respect?’” an emotional Mosimane told the post-match news conference.
Defending champions Ahly qualified for the semi-finals of the Total CAF Champions League for the fourth time in five years with a 3-1 aggregate win over Mamelodi Sundowns. Ahly played to a 1-1 draw with the South Africans in the second leg in Pretoria on Saturday.
However, their 2-0 win in the first leg in Cairo last weekend proved to be decisive.
Ahly were on the front foot from the word go and they were ahead after just 11 minutes when Yasser Ibrahim finished off after picking the ball from a deflected corner.
Sundowns’ Mosa Lebusa finished off from a corner, beating Ahly’s goalkeeper Mohamed Al-Shennawi to score.
Sundowns pushed Ahly into their own half of the pitch as they looked to narrow the gap. In the second half, they kept the pressure high but couldn’t score any more due to Ahly’s tight defence.
The other semi-final in the Champions League will be between Wydad Casablanca of Morocco and South African giants Kaizer Chiefs.
Walid Al-Karti scored an injury time winner (1-0) for Wydad against MC Alger of Algeria, to fire his side into the semis following their 1-1 away draw last week.
Wydad, who reached the semi-finals for the third time in a row, will face Kaizer Chiefs who survived a scare in Tanzania as they lost 3-0 to Simba, then reached the semis on a 4-3 aggregate win.
At the same time, last season’s runner ups Pyramids of Egypt reached the Total CAF Confederation Cup semi-finals for the second time in as many appearances, after holding Nigeria’s Enyimba to a 1-1 draw on Sunday.
Pyramids reached the semis winning 5-2 on aggregate after winning the first leg 4-1 in Cairo last weekend.
Ibrahim Adel gave the Egyptians the lead after 32 minutes, while Anayo Iwuala equalised for Enyimba eight minutes later at Enyimba International Stadium in Aba.
Pyramids, who reached the final in their maiden CAF appearance last season, will now face Morocco’s Raja in the semi-finals, with the hopes of reaching another final at stake. They have faced two losses in their first-leg and second-leg matches to Raja in the preliminary round of the same event.
Knowing they needed at least three unanswered goals to turn the score into their favour, Enyimba started the game on an attacking note and had numerous chances to take the lead, but for Pyramids’ goalkeeper Ahmed Al-Shennawi who was on guard.
And against the run of play, Pyramids took the lead after 32 minutes. Youngster Ibrahim Adel who came from the bench to score a brace in the first leg made use of a defencive mistake to score brilliantly past John Noble.
Both sides went to the break tied at 1-1. With time passing, Enyimba looked desperate to find the needed goals, while Pyramids were happy to see the minutes running with their ticket in the semis all but secured.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 May, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly