26 October 2017

Africa: Old Foes Ahly and Wydad Brace up for Final

The clock is fast ticking as the Total CAF Champions League 2017 reaches its ultimate stage, with record winners Al Ahly of Egypt playing hosts to Moroccan side, Wydad Athletic Club in the final first leg on Saturday in Alexandria.

The Borg El Arab Stadium in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria is the venue where the 'Red Devils' will entertain their Moroccan guests for the third time in little over a year.

The two sides faced each other at the group stage last year, and as fate will have it, they found themselves in Group D of this year's edition. The duo went out of the group to the knockout stages before going all the way to the decisive stage of the continent's premier club competition.

Record champions Ahly are eyeing an unprecedented ninth, after their last triumph four years ago. With successes in 1982, 1987, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2012 and 2013 on the wall of fame, the Cairo giants seek a ninth star on their famous red jersey. And to achieve that, they have to overcome their Moroccan opponents Wydad, who tasted continental glory only once in 1992.

It was a long and tough road for Ahly, who had to beat the likes of South African champions Bidvest Wits, Zambia's Zanaco, Coton Sport of Cameroon, and the Tunisian duo of Esperance and Etoile du Sahel on their way to the final, besides clashes against final opponent, Wydad. Last Sunday, the 'Red Devils' were at full-power, thrashing Etoile 6-2 in Alexandria to book their place at the final 7-4 on aggregate.

On the other side, Wydad needed penalties to overcome Mounana of Gabon at the preliminary knockout round, before cruising with Ahly from Group B. Once again a shootout was decisive against holders Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa at the quarters. The pre- final hurdle was Algeria's USM Alger, and Wydad achieved a 3-1 aggregate win to book their place in the final showdown.

"Since the competition started, our target has been clear; nothing but the trophy," Ahly coach Hossam El Badry told CAFOnline.com.

"Our focus is to win every game, and it will remain same for the coming final matches," he added.

El Badry has tasted continental glory with Al Ahly in different ways. He was a member of the Class of 1982 which won the club's first ever CAF title, when the premier continental club championship was christened "African Cup of Champions Clubs".

He deputized for legendary Portuguese coach Manuel Jose, with whom El Badry lifted the Holy Grail of African club football three times in 2005, 2006 and 2008. Also, he was at the helm of the team when they won their seventh title in 2012.

"I believe we deserve this title. We've done everything in the right way till now. Wydad is a very good team. Both sides know everything about each other having played in the same group. We respect them, but we fear no one. The sky is our limit," concluded El Badry.

After having 50,000 fans in full voice behind them last weekend, Ahly will be guaranteed at least a similar support this Saturday. Despite playing almost all their domestic games behind closed doors for security reasons, the authorities allowed the 'Red Devils' to have their diehard fans behind them in continental matches.

The Egyptian champions are missing influential midfielder Hossam Ashour and talented playmaker Saleh Gomaa through injuries, but welcome back veteran defender Ahmed Fathy who sat out of the semi-final second leg against Etoile due to suspension.

Right-back Fathy and Ashour are among 10 players who have tasted CAF Champions League glory before with Ahly. Sherif Ekramy, Ahmed Adel, Ramy Rabiaa, Mohamed Naguib, Saad Samir, Waleed Suleiman, Abdullah El Said and skipper Emad Metaeb complete the list.

The second leg will take place on Saturday, 4 November 2017 in Casablanca.

A stake is a cash reward of 2,500,000 US Dollars for the winner and the ticket to represent Africa at the FIFA Club World Cup in December in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

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