A NORTHERN DUEL FOR THE SOUL OF AFRICAN FOOTBALL
Last night we were offered the biggest club football match in Africa. This was a match that was destined to deliver action both on and off the field. A match between two northern African teams to decide if Morocco will historically be the residence of both African club football titles or if the other team will strengthen their grip on African football by winning the CAF Champions League for a third straight season. Both Al Ahly and Wydad Athletic Club filed out yesterday with the surety that whoever wins is going to make history.
The run up to the final was already shrouded in controversy when CAF decided to take the match to the Stade Mohamed V in Casablanca, which meant that Wydad effectively played the final at home. But then you can never take anything away from Al Ahly being the best team in Africa and managed by unarguably the best coach in Africa in Pitso Mosimane. This was billed to be a spectacle irrespective of the controversy.
Both teams navigated their way through a series of preliminary rounds through to the quarter finals, semis, and then the final. Al Ahly navigated their way by beating Al Merreik of Sudan 3-1 in the 5th round.
They then defeated Al Hilal 1-0 in round 6 to progress to the quarter finals. In the quarter finals, they were paired with Raja Casablanca of Morocco whom they defeated 2-1 at home, and then played out a 1-1 draw away in Morocco to advance to the semis.
In the semi final, the Egyptian giants came up against ES Setif whom they dismantled 4-0 at home and then play out a 2-2 draw in the second leg away to move on to the final as favourites.
The Moroccans on their own side had to scale through Sagrada of Angola 2-1 in the 5th round. In the 6th round, they pummeled Petro Atletico 5-1 to progress to the quarter finals.
At the quarter final stage, they scraped past CR Belouizdad 1-0 away from home in the first leg before playing out a goalless stalemate at home in the second leg to move on to the semis.
The semis was a repeat of the 6th round. Just as in the quarter final stage the Moroccans beat their hosts Petro Atletico 3-1 in the first leg, before holding them to a 1-1 draw in the second leg at home. Perhaps the confidence of winning their first legs away from home was their achilles heel at home.
This was a final for the supremacy of African club football, especially when it comes to superiority in African football between the two best countries. It was always going to be hard to predict the outcome of this game based on the fact that Al Ahly were the defending champions and clearly the favorites on paper. But the dynamics changed when the organizers announced that the match would be played at Wydad's home in Casablanca instead of the earlier touted Tunisia and Nigeria.
The match started in explosive fashion with Al Ahly enjoying the lion's share of possession. Wydad, riding on home support refused to just sit back and defend, they were constantly on the front foot and playing with a flair and swagger that bellied their initial underdogs status.
With the Tunisian midfield maestro Maaloul weaving passes through Wydad's defensive lines, the Casablanca side's defense were up for it, but they survived the early onslaught to take the lead in the 15th minute with a thunderous strike that whistled into the back of the net through the right topside of the post.
The Egyptians toiled throughout the first half to no avail, with the home team crafting the best chances without really punishing their opponents. The second half started in same explosive fashion with Al Ahly racing out of the blocks in an attempt to get back into the game. And just as in the first half, it was the Moroccans who doubled their lead through El Moutaraji, who grabbed his brace in the 48th minute to leave an uphill task for the Egyptians.
The like of Percy Tau who has been Al Ahly's best player (scoring twice and providing 3 assists in both legs of the semis against ES Setif). Even with the introduction of two time champions league final man of the match, Mohamed Kafsha and last season's top scorer, Mohamed Sherif, the Moroccans' defense stood their ground and weathered the onslaught to emerge 2-0 winners and clinch their 3rd champions league crown, sending the 30,000 fans in the stadium to raptures.
Congratulations Wydad Casablanca, 2022 CAF Champions League winners. Morocco rules Africa.
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