Ahly strike back, Sundowns go through
Having picked up just one point from their three opening matches in the group stage of the CAF Champions League, record champions Al Ahly had their backs against the wall ahead of their away match at Group A leaders Wydad Casablanca. However, the Red Devils flipped the script and are back in the hunt for a ninth title after a 1-0 victory in Morocco threw Group A wide open.
The winner of the showpiece event of African club football will represent the continent at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan at the end of the year.
Match of the week ASEC Mimosas 1-1 Zesco United Zesco United are still alive in their quest to become the first Zambian club to advance to the semi-finals of the Champions League after a 1-1 draw at ASEC Mimosas, also in Group A. Zesco beat the team from Côte d'Ivoire 3-1 in Ndola in their last game, so the pressure was on the home side to secure a victory. Zesco goalkeeper Jacob Banda was in fine form though as he pulled off a number of excellent saves. He stood no chance with 15 minutes to go as Nabi Kone rushed through to score from a Yannick Zakri free-kick. However, the visitors fought back bravely and were rewarded just a few minutes later with an equaliser from Jackson Mwanza, who found the back of the net after ASEC failed to clear a free-kick. The win moves Zesco to seven points, three more than ASEC.
Other matches Zesco share top spot in Group A with Wydad Casablanca, who missed out on a glorious opportunity to all but guarantee their place in the semi-finals, with the 1-0 home loss to Al Ahly. The Egyptians, who already went into the match weakened after having sold teenage sensation Ramadan Sobhi to Stoke City and Gabonese striker Malick Evouna to China's Tianjin Teda, suffered a further setback as midfielders Amr El-Sulaya and Bassem Ali as well as defender Ahmed Hegazy all had to be replaced after picking up injuries. But Martin Jol's men put in a spirited performance and were rewarded shortly after the break when defender Ramy Rabia headed home the only goal of the game to see his side move to four points.
In Group B, Sundowns progressed from the group phase of the competition for only the second time in their history when they beat Zamalek 1-0 to record their third straight victory and move to nine points. Sundowns enjoyed most of the play and could have gone ahead in the first half, but found goalkeeper Ahmed El-Shenaway hard to beat. When the goal finally came with 10 minutes to go, it was substitute Percy Tau who made the difference as Zamalek defender Ali Gabr's attempted clearance from a low cross ended up in his own goal.
Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane was happy with his side's performance. “We could have scored more, but we ended up enjoying the game more than trying to score," he said. "It’s also good to enjoy the game, to have confidence on the ball and dominate. We got what we wanted.” Despite the defeat, Zamalek remain in a good position to join Sundowns in the round of the last four as a draw at home on the next matchday against Enyimba would be enough. The White Knights currently have three points, while the Nigerian club have yet to open their points tally from two matches
Player of the week When Ramy Rabia joined Sporting Lisbon shortly after his 21st birthday in 2014, he had already won seven major titles - including back-to-back Champions League titles in 2012 and 2013. His move to Portugal did not stick, and he returned to Al Ahly a year later and fit right back in the team. Although he plays as a defender, Rabia, who was thrown into the deep end of professional football as a 17-year-old, has scored some decisive and spectacular goals, like the one he scored in 2013 in the CAF Super Cup. Rabia was again on target as he kept Al Ahly's hopes of a ninth Champions League title alive with a 1-0 victory in Morocco against Wydad Casablanca on Wednesday.
The stat 1 – Only one team is guaranteed a place in the semi-finals. Sundowns, who are also the only team with a 100 per cent record, can plan ahead for the knock-out stage. But while just one team is through, the remaining six all remain in contention.
What they said “We were very unlucky with the three injuries we had in the game, but we still played a great match. We were planning to be cautious in the first half and then adopt a bolder approach after the break, but thankfully, we took an early lead in the second half and then there was no need to push forward. We defended well and deserved this win," Ahly's assistant coach Osama Orabi.
Have your say Can Ahly continue their recovery and reach the semi-finals?