Wydad, Zesco jockey for pole position
If Wydad Casablanca want to win Group A of the CAF Champions League and avoid the seemingly irrepressible South African champions Sundowns in the semi-final, they will need to stop Zesco United's good streak in Ndola.
Not only is the Zambian club currently on a run of seven consecutive wins at home in the CAF Champions League, they have yet to lose at home in their eight campaigns in the event. All told, they have played 16 matches in front of their own fans in the Champions League, winning 11 and drawing five, while scoring 26 goals and conceding seven.
However, their Moroccan visitors currently top the group on 10 points ahead of the final game and know that a draw in Zambia will keep them in that place ahead of Zesco, who have eight points.
The Zambians go into the match on Wednesday buoyed by a convincing 4-0 league victory against Power Dynamos. Jackson Mwanza and midfielder Cletus Chota each scored twice for Team Ya Ziko. Zesco's success in the Champions League – becoming the first Zambian country to advance to the semi-finals – has not gone unnoticed by football officials in the southern African country. “We are extremely proud of Zesco. In the last four to five years, they have been at the forefront of taking Zambian football to greater heights,” said the general secretary of the Football Association of Zambia, Ponga Liwewe.
Wydad needed a last-gasp goal by Fabrice Nguessi Ondama to beat ASEC Mimosas 2-1 at home in their last game and they will again be looking toward the Congolese striker for goals. The visitors though will not yet be able to call on Liberian international William Jebor, who has only just joined the club on recommendation of former World Footballer of the Year George Weah. But Nigerian striker Chisom Chikatara, who was also recently signed, is in the travelling party.
For pride only The other match in the group on Wednesday sees the eliminated Al Ahly travelling to Côte d'Ivoire for their game against Mimosas, with little more to play for than the pride of not finishing bottom of the table. The Cairo giants are currently third with five points, while ASEC are on four.
Ahly's preparations for the game took a turn for the worse on Thursday when Dutch coach Martin Jol stepped down after clashing with fans following the team's elimination from the competition. He will be replaced on a temporary basis by his assistant Ossama Orabi, who is set to have a tough time focusing his team after fan protests and the cessation of team training.
Mamelodi Sundowns, meanwhile, have no such pressure ahead of their trip to Nigeria for Tuesday's game against two-time champions Enyimba in Group B. The Nigerians have already been eliminated, while Sundowns know they have won the group ahead of their final group match. The Brazilians, as the South Africans are known, are on nine points from their three matches, while Zamalek, who are guaranteed second place, have six points. The People's Elephant have not yet opened their tally.
Bafana international Sibusiso Vilakazi, who joined Sundowns from Wits, but is cup tied as he already played in the CAF Confederation Cup this year, is confident his new team-mates will be able to go all the way. “So far so good, but now in the semi-finals they need to take it up a level and put a bit more into it because these are the crucial stages.
"It’s important that we keep focused and continue playing and winning so that we don’t lose the rhythm of playing regularly,” he said.
Sundowns will take on the second-placed team from Group A, while Zamalek will face the winner of the group.