Al-Ahly Defends CAF Champions League Title Against First Finalists Chiefs

A shocking CAF Champions League season will bring another on Saturday as Kaizer Chiefs, the first finalists, beat nine-time winner Al Ahly in the Moroccan economic capital of Casablanca.

Many of the millions who support Egyptian and African giants Ahly believe the outcome at Stade Mohammed V is unquestioned. Their only question is the margin of victory for the Cairo Red Devils led by Mohamed el Shenawy.

Still, Chiefs were mavericks when the competition kicked off last November and the South African club has already faced huge chances to reach the final.

Although they are two of the biggest names in African football, the teams have only met once, with Ahly winning 4-1 in the one-off 2002 CAF Super Cup match in Cairo.

Ahly reached the 2021 final by winning eight matches, drawing three and losing just one, away to shock the winners of Group A, Tanzania’s Simba, in the mini-competition stage.

Winners of a record 21 CAF titles in four competitions, the Cairo club scored 23 goals, including five from top scorer Mohamed Sherif, conceding just six on the way to Casablanca.

They are coached by South African Pitso Mosimane, a fan of the Chiefs from his childhood who will tie Tunisian Faouzi Benzarti with five titles as the most successful African coaches in CAF club competitions if Ahly is victorious.

He chooses his team from a mix of Egyptian, Tunisian, Malian and Nigerian stars and since he replaced Switzerland’s Rene Weiler last September, he has won 36 out of 50 matches in all competitions, drawn 10 and lost four.

His stars include El Shenawy, widely regarded as Africa’s best goalkeeper, fullback Ali Maaloul, midfielders Aliou Dieng and Mohamed ‘Afsha’ Magdy and forward Sherif.

Although Mosimane has a lot of TV footage of Chiefs, he still labels the Soweto side as “mysterious” and “difficult to analyze”.

Also, perhaps playing brain games, he says the South Africans have “scored a lot and taken a lot” in the Champions League this season.

In fact, the Amakhosi (Chiefs) have averaged less than one goal per game in Africa, with 12 in 14 qualifying, group, quarter-final and semi-final matches.

11 clean sheets

They gave four to Wydad Casablanca, three to Simba and two to Horoya in Guinea, but also have eleven clean sheets.

“I have a bit of a conflict with Chiefs,” Mosimane admits. “I am a South African plotting the downfall of my countrymen.

“But it’s about me, my family and my team. They come first. Either I want to give my winner’s medal to Chiefs or keep it for myself and I think you (media) know the answer to that.”

“Ahly is not a welfare or charity organization that awards stars (Champions League winners medals). We want to win in Egypt what they call ‘El Ashra’ (10th title).”

Chiefs coach Arthur Zwane was part of the team that was hammered into the Super Cup by Ahly 19 years ago when one of the Egyptian goals was scored by goalkeeper Essam el Hadary from an open kick.

He says the desire to please club president and former star Kaizer Motaung is a huge factor for the underdogs, whose only CAF success came in the 2001 edition of the now-defunct African Cup Winners Cup.

“Kaizer founded the club 51 years ago and made it the most successful in South Africa, but we haven’t won anything since 2015 and now it’s time to change that unacceptable statistic.”

Chiefs will rely on a tight defense drafted by giant centre-back Eric Mathoho, and they can choose from a trio of outstanding goalkeepers in Nigerian Daniel Akpeyi, Itumeleng Khune and Bruce Bvuma.

Veteran Zimbabwean Willard Katsande is combative and Nkosingiphile Ngcobo creative in midfield, while Serbian forward Samir Nurkovic is a clinical finisher both on the ground and in the air.

Burundian Pacifique Ndabihawenimana will referee the fourth Champions League final between Egyptian and South African clubs, with the North Africans leading 2-1.

(AFP)

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