Wydad warriors seek hat-trick of final triumphs over mighty Ahly

The Cairo Red Devils have never won a Champions League final against Wydad Casablanca.

Egyptian club Al Ahly are the undisputed giants of Africa, winning a record 23 continental titles across four competitions, including the CAF Champions League 10 times.  

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But the Cairo Red Devils have never won a Champions League final against Wydad Casablanca, who they face in Morocco on Sunday in the second leg of the 2023 title decider.

Wydad edged Ahly 2-1 on aggregate in the 2017 decider and last year they dominated a single-match final in Casablanca with Zouhair el Moutaraji scoring twice for a 2-0 triumph. 

If the Moroccans complete a hat-trick over the Egyptians this weekend, they will truly be the nemesis of Ahly, who have not lost more than once against any other final rivals. 

Apart from Wydad, Asante Kotoko of Ghana, Etoile Sahel of Tunisia and Esperance of Tunisia have overcome Ahly in finals of Africa’s premier club competition.

Last weekend, the latest episode in the greatest African rivalry of recent years ended with Ahly establishing a fragile 2-1 aggregate advantage in front of their red-clad supporters.

It was looking good for Ahly with five minutes of regular time remaining and the home side two goals in front thanks to South African Percy Tau and Mahmoud Kahraba.

Wydad knew an away goal could turn a final that was slipping from their grasp into a cliffhanger, and Saifeddine Bouhra emerged as the unlikely saviour. 

On the field just four minutes, the substitute pounced on a loose ball inside the area and hammered it into the net.

Instead of needing at least two goals in Morocco to draw level on aggregate, Wydad will become back-to-back champions for the first time if they win 1-0 at home and triumph on away goals. 

– ‘Huge difference’ –

“That away goal could make a huge difference,” said Belgium-born Wydad coach Sven Vandenbroeck, the fourth occupant this season of one of the ‘hottest’ coaching seats in Africa.

“Trailing by two goals late in the second half, we were in big trouble. Saifeddine changed the complexion of the final. 

“Naturally, I wanted to win in Cairo, but I am not unhappy with a 2-1 scoreline. It has opened the door to glory and we must take full advantage.

“I am in charge of a disciplined, united group. I hope we will be rewarded by becoming African champions again.”  

Meeting Ahly in Champions League finals brings out the best in Wydad with the loss in Cairo last Sunday the first in four meetings.

In group and semi-final encounters, it is a different story with Ahly having a clear edge, winning four matches, drawing three and losing just one.

Ahly coach Marcel Koller agreed with Vandenbroeck about the important of away goals, saying: “I am convinced we can score in Casablanca.

“We conceded at home because the team momentarily forgot what we stressed at half-time — retain possession if two goals ahead with time ticking away,” added the Swiss.    

As Kahraba, Tau and Hussein el Shahat, with 15 goals between them, seek more in Morocco, Wydad will draw comfort from having kept clean sheets in all six Champions League home matches.

They achieved this despite a long-term injury to goalkeeper Ahmed Tagnaouti, although Youssef el Motie is proving an extremely capable replacement. 

Ahly had to use third-choice goalkeeper Ahmed Shobeir in the first leg due to injuries and he performed admirably, but first-choice Mohamed el Shenawy has resumed training and could start.