Finely poised

Alaa Abdel-Ghani , Tuesday 14 May 2024

Berkane enter the second leg of the African Confederation Cup final nursing a slim 2-1 win over Zamalek, reports Alaa Abdel-Ghani



Zamalek of Egypt and Morocco’s RS Berkane head for the deciding second leg of the African Confederation Cup final knowing the trophy could go to either one.

Berkane drew first blood, beating Zamalek 2-1 on Sunday at the Stade Municipal de Berkane.

However, Zamalek’s away goal, which still counts in African football, could tilt the balance in Zamalek’s favour.

The decisive game is on 19 May at Cairo International Stadium.

In Morocco, Youssef Al-Fahli earned Berkane a penalty after being brought down by Hossam Abdel-Meguid.

Kenyan referee Peter Waweru had to consult VAR before defender and skipper Issoufou Dayo put his side in front in the 13th minute after sending Mohamed Awwad the wrong way.

The hosts doubled their lead in the 32nd minute when Adil Tahif took a cross with a low header right of goal that Awwad might have stopped had he put a little more spring in his jump.

But just a minute into the second half, Tunisian striker Seif Jaziri scored with a header of his own to bring Zamalek back into the game. The goal was almost a carbon copy of Tahif’s except to the left of goal.

Jaziri has been Zamalek’s recent go-to goal man, having scored a brace for his team’s emphatic 2-1 win over city rivals Ahly in the Egyptian Premier League last month. 

Following Sunday’s game and despite the win, Berkane coach Mouin Chaabani cautioned against complacency in the return leg.

“I am happy with the home win which was attributed to a very good first half that we had, though there was visible laxity in the second half, which is something we have to improve on,” Chaabani said. 

“We are going to Egypt, and we know it will not be an easy game. We have to change our strategy and ensure we rectify our mistakes to be able to get positive results.”

Zamalek’s Portuguese coach Jose Gomes, installed only in February, criticised his team’s performance in the first half which saw them go two goals down.

“I am not happy with the way we started the game and not happy with how we conceded goals,” Gomes said after the game.

“I can’t say we played badly, but we didn’t play as we wanted. We prepared well for this game to come and win. Now we will have to prepare for the next game in Cairo, and we hope for a better game.”

Berkane’s obvious advantage is that they won the game and need only draw to lift the cup.

Zamalek must win but with the away goal in hand, 1-0 would do.

A possible 50,000 Zamalek supporters could also show up, giving the club the proverbial extra man advantage. 

The showdown marks a rematch of the 2019 final, in which both teams won 1-0 at home, with Zamalek emerging victorious 5-3 in a penalty shootout. It would be Zamalek’s last piece of African silverware.

Berkane are playing in their fourth Confederation Cup final in six years. They have twice won the tournament which is similar to the Europa League. A third title would equal Tunisia’s CS Sfaxien as the team with the most wins in the competition. If Berkane win, it would be the eighth such title for a Moroccan side, three more than any other country.

Ahly and Zamalek are the only two Egyptian clubs to win the Confederation Cup, the former taking it in 2014. 

* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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