Johannesburg (AFP) – A CAF Champions League season stacked with shock will provide a new Saturday if first-time finalists Kaizer Chiefs beat nine-time winners Al Ahly in the Moroccan economic capital Casablanca.
Many among the millions who support Egyptian and African giants Ahly believe that the result is not in doubt at Stade Mohammed V, their only question is the victory margin of the Mohamed el Shenawy captain Cairo Red Devils.
Still, Chiefs rank were outsiders when the competition started in November last year, and the South African club has already braved massive odds to reach the final.
Although they are two of the biggest names in African football, the teams have met only once, with Ahly winning 4-1 in the one-time CAF Super Cup match in Cairo in 2002.
Ahly reached the 2021 final by winning eight matches, drawing three and losing only one, away to shock Group A winners Simba in Tanzania at the mini-league stage.
Winners of record 21 CAF titles in four competitions, the Cairo club has scored 23 goals, including five from leading goal scorer Mohamed Sherif, and cashed in just six on its way to Casablanca.
They are led by South African 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 triumphs.
He chooses his team from a mix of Egyptian, Tunisian, Malian and Nigerian stars and has since the replacement of Swiss Rene Weiler in September last year won 36 out 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 ‘Afsha’ Magdy and forward Sherif.
Although Mosimane has plenty of TV footage of Chiefs, he still labels the Soweto page as “mysterious” and “difficult to analyze”.
Maybe he plays memorial games, he says the South Africans have “scored a lot and cashed a lot” in the Champions League this season.
In fact, the Amakhosi (Chiefs) on average have less than one goal a game in Africa, where they scored 12 in 14 qualifiers, group, quarter-finals and semi-finals.
– 11 clean sheets –
They admitted 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 with the Chiefs,” Mosimane admits. “I am a South African who is planning the downfall of my countrymen.
“However, it is about me, my family and my team. They come first. Either I will give my winning medal to the Chiefs or keep it to myself and I think you (media) know the answer to that.
Ahly is not a charity or charity that awards stars (Champions League winning medals). We want to win what they call ‘El Ashra’ (10th title) in Egypt. ”
Chiefs coach Arthur Zwane was part of the team that was 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 says the desire to please club president and former star Kaizer Motaung is a huge factor driving 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 made it the most successful in South Africa, but we have not won anything since 2015 and now is the time to change the unacceptable statistics.”
Chiefs will rely on a tight defense hosted by giant center-back Eric Mathoho and they can choose from a trio of excellent goalkeepers in the Nigerian Daniel Akpeyi, Itumeleng Khune and Bruce Bvuma.
Veteran Zimbabwean Willard Katsande is a warrior and Nkosingiphile Ngcobo is creative in midfield, while Serbian striker Samir Nurkovic is a clinical finisher, both on the ground and in the air.
Burundian Pacifique Ndabihawenimana referees the fourth Champions League final between Egyptian and South African clubs with the North Africans taking a 2-1 lead.