Sensational semis in Africa

The final of this year’s CAF Champions League will see a showdown between extremes of north and south Africa as Cairo giants Zamalek and South African champions Mamelodi Sundowns progressed beyond the semi-finals to the championship match. The White Knights had to endure a scare on the weekend though, as Wydad came close to pulling off a sensational comeback, while Sundowns won 2-0 at home to record a 3-2 aggregate win.

The winner of next month’s two-legged final will represent Africa at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2016 in December.

Game of the week
Wydad Casablanca 5-2 Zamalek
Having lost their first leg encounter in Egypt 4-0, Wydad knew that nothing short of a football miracle would give them a third appearance in the final of Africa’s showpiece event of club football. Coaches Sebastien Desabre and Mohamed Soheil, who were in charge after John Toshack was sacked following the embarrassing defeat in Egypt, rang in the changes and Liberian international William Jebor and Ismail El Haddad gave the fanatic fans hope when they put the home side 2-0 up within 20 minutes. However, their job was made more difficult when Bassem Morsi found the net for the visitors in the 35th minute. Just before the break Jebor scored his second off an assist from El Haddad, who was a danger throughout.

Wydad continued dominating in the second half as they poured forward in search of the three goals that would seal a miraculous comeback and with 25 minutes remaining, they were just one short. Gabon international Nguessi Ondama first side-footed past goalkeeper Ahmed El-Shennawi, before converting a penalty. Sensing a sensation, the fans urged their side forward, which left the Wydad defence exposed and Zamalek’s Nigerian striker Stanley Ohawuchi made the most of a chance after being set-up by substitute Ayman Hefni. Needing two more goals to advance was too tough a task for the home side in the remaining nine minutes and despite a heroic attempt and a fantastic 5-2 win, they bow out – albeit with their heads held high.

The other match
After a 2-1 win for Zesco United in Zambia, it took Sundowns, known as ‘the Brazilians’, four minutes to open the scoring when Anthony Laffor found the back of the net. Although a 1-0 would have been enough to go through on the away goal rule, Percy Tau added a second after the break with a well-timed header. “We needed the goal, and I’m glad it came in the second half, the important one! I think it was a good goal,” he said. Sundowns’ victory crowns a dramatic turn-around of their fortunes after they were twice knocked out of African club competitions this season. They lost in the Champions League play-offs against Vita Club and then experienced the same in the CAF Confederations Cup, but they were reinstated into the Champions League after Vita Club were found to have used an ineligible player in a previous round.

Player of the week
Nigerian Stanley Ohawuchi is well-travelled in professional football. Having started playing professional football for his hometown club Bayelsa United, the striker moved to Heartland, before embarking on a career in Europe. His first point of call was Spain, where his match time with lower league club Atletico Baleares was limited. He then signed in Malta for Silema Wanderers, where he had more success, prompting Egyptian club Wadi Degla to make him an offer he could not refuse. His goals in the Egyptian league drew the interest of Cairo giants Zamelek, and the White Knights took him on loan to boost their Champions League campaign. Although the negotiations were a lengthy drawn-out process, they were well worth it, as it was the Nigerian who managed to score the all-important second goal for his side against Wydad, which cut short the home side’s hopes of a dramatic comeback. It was Ohawuchi’s first start for the Cairo giants.

The stat
8 –
The number of times that Zamalek has played against South African opposition in African cup competitions. Surprisingly, none of the matches ended in a draw as the Egyptians have won four and lost four. The goal record is also equal with 12 goals for and 12 goals against. However, their record against Sundowns is less impressive as the South Africans beat them twice in the group stage this year.

What they said
“It’s a most unfortunate thing. We fought to go to the final, we came prepared, but we should have won this game back home. We made a few mistakes and they capitalised on that. It has been a good walk, we have done so well, the bookmakers didn’t even give us a chance. Unfortunately our road has ended here, but the boys still fought,” Zesco United coach George Lwandamina.

Have your say
Can Sundowns finally win a second Champions League trophy for South Africa? Orlando Pirates are the only club from Africa’s most southern country to have won the competition – having done so in 1995, when they beat ASEC Mimosas.

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