CASABLANCA, Morocco – Nine-time champions Al-Ahly finished preparations in readiness for their match against Kaizer Chiefs of South Africa in the CAF Champions League final on Saturday at Stade Mohammed V in Casablanca at 9:00pm Cairo Local Time.
Many among the millions who support Egyptian and African giants Al-Ahly believe the outcome is not in doubt at Stade Mohammed V, their only questions is the victory margin for the Mohamed el-Shenawy-captained Cairo Red Devils.
Al-Ahly is looking to win their 10th CAF Champions League/African Cup of Champions Clubs title and a 16th for Egypt, no other team have won more than five and no other country have been victorious on more than six occasions.
Yet Chiefs were rank outsiders when the competition kicked off last November and the South African club has already defied massive odds to reach the final.
Although they are two of the biggest names in African football, the teams have met just once, with Al-Ahly winning 4-1 in the one-off 2002 CAF Super Cup match in Cairo.
Al-Ahly reached the 2021 final by winning eight matches, drawing three and losing just one, away to shock Group A winners Simba in Tanzania at the mini-league stage.
Winners of a record 21 CAF titles in four competitions, the Cairo club have scored 23 goals, including five from leading scorer Mohamed Sherif, and conceded just six en route to Casablanca.
They are guided by South African coach Pitso Mosimane, a childhood Chiefs’ fan who will tie five-title Tunisian Faouzi Benzarti as the most successful African coaches in CAF club competitions if Ahly triumph.
He chooses his team from a mix of Egyptian, Tunisian, Malian and Nigerian stars and, since replacing Swiss Rene Weiler last September, has won 36 of 50 matches in all competitions, drawn 10 and lost four.
His stars include El-Shenawy, widely regarded as the best goalkeeper in Africa, full-back Ali Maaloul, midfielders Aliou Dieng and Mohamed Magdy ‘Afsha’ and forward Sherif.
Although Mosimane has ample TV footage of Chiefs, he still labels the Soweto side “mysterious” and “difficult to analyse”.
Also, perhaps playing mind games, he says the South Africans have “scored a lot and conceded a lot” in the Champions League this season.
In fact, the Amakhosi (Chiefs) have averaged less than a goal a game in Africa, notching 12 in 14 qualifying, group, quarter-final and semi-final matches.
They conceded four to Wydad Casablanca, three to Simba and two to Horoya in Guinea, but also boast 11 clean sheets.
“I have a little bit of a conflict facing Chiefs,” admits Mosimane according to AFP. “I am a South African plotting the downfall of my countrymen.
“However, it is about me, my family and my team. They come first. Either I want to give my winners medal to Chiefs or keep it for myself and I think you (media) know the answer to that one.
“Al-Ahly is not a welfare or charitable organisation handing out stars (Champions League winners medals). We want to win what they call ‘El Ashra’ (10th title) in Egypt.”
Chiefs coach Arthur Zwane was part of the team hammered by Ahly in the Super Cup 19 years ago when one of the Egyptian goals was scored by goalkeeper Essam el-Hadary from a clearing kick.
He said that the desire to please club chairman and former star Kaizer Motaung is a huge factor driving the underdogs, whose lone CAF success came in the 2001 edition of the now defunct African Cup Winners Cup.
“Kaizer formed the club 51 years ago and turned it into the most successful in South Africa, but we have not won anything since 2015 and now is the time to alter that unacceptable statistic.”
Chiefs will rely on a tight defence marshalled by giant centre-back Eric Mathoho, and they can choose from a trio of excellent 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 Red Devils holding a 2-1 lead.
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