Cham­pi­ons League round-up

Con­ti­nen­tal ti­tle up for grabs

World Soccer - - Contents - MARK GLEE­SON

“I won the Cham­pi­ons League with Mazembe and I know how im­por­tant it is. When I first vis­ited Ahly and saw the tro­phy in the cab­i­net, I said I ‘want to bring it back’” Pa­trice Carteron

In more than half a cen­tury of com­pe­ti­tion, only two clubs have man­aged to win African club foot­ball’s big­gest prize back-to-back. And it will stay that way af­ter last year’s Cham­pi­ons League win­ners Wy­dad of Morocco were elim­i­nated in the quar­ter-fi­nals by ES Setif from neigh­bour­ing Al­ge­ria.

Win­ners in 2014, Setif now take on Egyp­tian giants Al Ahly, who are one of the two sides to have man­aged a suc­cess­ful de­fence of the ti­tle. In fact, Ahly have done it twice – in 2005 and 2006, and 2012 and 2013 – but of their record eight ti­tles none have been in the last five years.

The other semi-fi­nal tie pits Esper­ance of Tu­nisia against the An­golan army club Primeiro Agosto,

who have ex­ceeded ex­pec­ta­tions with their per­for­mance this year.

Wy­dad had looked con­vinc­ing in the group phase, fin­ish­ing top and help­ing to en­sure that 2016 cham­pi­ons Mamelodi Sun­downs of South Africa were elim­i­nated. But in the last eight Wy­dad came up against one of their for­mer coaches – and Rachid Taoussi led Setif to a nar­row 1-0 ag­gre­gate win, with the only goal of the tie com­ing from Sene­galese im­port Isla Daoudi Diomande.

The 59-year-old Taoussi was in charge of Wy­dad some 15 years ago and this year he turned around a dis­as­trous start to the group stage for Setif, who lost their open­ing pair of games but re­cov­ered to fin­ish sec­ond be­hind TP Mazembe of the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo in Group B.

Mazembe, who won the CAF Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup in 2016 and 2017, were un­beaten in the group phase but were then bun­dled out by Primeiro Agosto in the quar­ters. They looked well placed to progress af­ter a goal­less away leg in Luanda but were held 1-1 at home and elim­i­nated on the away­goals rule. The cru­cial goal for the An­golans came from Mongo, but goal­keeper Tony Cabaca was the match win­ner af­ter mak­ing two penalty saves.

“We were real he­roes in Lubum­bashi, where it is not easy to play against ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­one,” said coach Zoran Maki after­wards. “All credit to the play­ers who have man­aged to over­come a lot of ad­ver­sity. We were never favourites be­cause the op­po­nent had much more ex­pe­ri­ence than us. But we worked hard be­cause

we dreamt of the semi-fi­nals.”

The An­golans now meet Esper­ance, who boast a rich pedi­gree at this level and have looked im­pres­sive again this year. They beat com­pa­tri­ots Etoile Sa­hel both home and away in the quar­ter-fi­nals for a 3-1 ag­gre­gate win.

Ahly edged Esper­ance to top place in Group A, win­ning away in Tu­nis in the key tie af­ter be­ing held to a draw by Esper­ance in Cairo, and few would bet against the pair fac­ing each other again in Novem­ber’s Fi­nal.

The Cairo giants have had Pa­trice Carteron in charge since June and al­ready look a lot more con­vinc­ing since his ap­point­ment. The for­mer Paris Saint-Ger­main and Sun­der­land de­fender took Mazembe to Cham­pi­ons League suc­cess in 2015 and he was pre­vi­ously with Di­dier Drogba’s club, Phoenix Ris­ing, in the USA be­fore tak­ing the Ahly job.

“I won the Cham­pi­ons League with Mazembe and I know how im­por­tant it is,” says Carteron. “When I first vis­ited Ahly and saw the tro­phy in the cab­i­net, I said I ‘want to bring it back’.”

When the 48-year-old took the reins Ahly were strug­gling in the group stage, hav­ing col­lected a soli­tary point from their open­ing two matches but he turned mat­ters around as they recorded four straight wins. “The play­ers helped me and we man­aged to im­prove our re­sults to fin­ish as the group lead­ers,” he adds.

Stroung...Al Ahly’s Walid Soli­man (right) gets ther bet­ter of Horoya’s Ocansey Man­dela

Out...hold­ers Wy­dad (in white) were knocked out by ES Setif

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