Champions League round-up
Continental title up for grabs
“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