In-form Ahly seek return to African summit
Record eight-time winners Al Ahly take outstanding form into the CAF Champions League final against Wydad Casablanca of Morocco as they seek to reclaim first place in African club football.
Egyptian side Ahly host the first leg in Mediterranean city Alexandria on Saturday and the return match is set for Casablanca on the Atlantic coast seven days later.
Apart from the pride of conquering Africa, a CAF record $2.5 million (2.12 million euro) first prize is up for grabs, plus a place in December’s FIFA Club World Cup.
Ahly have won the CAF Champions League (formerly the African Cup of Champions Clubs) three times more than any other club.
But the Cairo Red Devils last lifted the trophy in 2013 when now retired legend Mohamed Abou Trika scored in a 3-1 aggregate victory against Orlando Pirates of South Africa.
The manner in which Ahly eliminated Tunisian clubs Esperance and Etoile in the quarter-finals and semi-finals means they carry the tag of favourites against Wydad.
Held 2-2 at home by Esperance, Ahly went to Tunis and triumphed 2-1 through goals from Tunisian Ali Maaloul and Nigerian Junior Ajayi.
Having then fallen 2-1 away to Etoile, Ahly won 6-2 at home as they gave one of their finest Champions League performances since debuting 41 years ago.
Walid Azaro, under fire for persistent poor form, repaid the faith coach Hossam El Badry had showed in him by scoring a hat-trick.
“I wanted to score in every match, but was constantly unlucky,” explained the Morocco-born striker. “I thank coach Hossam for persevering with me.
“However, we have to forget what we did against Etoile and focus on Wydad, who will be difficult opponents to overcome.”
Azaro demonstrated his aerial threat against Etoile by twice powering crosses into the net during the first half and completed his treble with an early second-half tap-in.
El Badry, enjoying a third spell in charge of a club he guided to the 2012 Champions League title, says Ahly are obsessed with success.
“We aim to win whatever competition we enter,” he stressed. “Our supporters are desperate for another Champions League title.”
This weekend marks the third meeting between Ahly and Wydad this year after each won 2-0 at home during the group phase.
Goals from Moamen Zakaria and Ajayi delivered maximum points for Ahly and now-departed Congo Brazzaville sharpshooter Fabrice Ondama and Walid El Karty were the Wydad scorers.
While Ahly have featured in 10 Champions League finals, Wydad have reached only a third decider in the competition.
They defeated Al Hilal of Sudan 2-0 on aggregate in 1992, but fell to Esperance six seasons ago in a home-and-away final decided by a solitary goal.
This year, the Hussein Amotta-coached outfit have been outstanding in Morocco, winning all six matches with goalkeeper Zouheir Laaroubi conceding just one goal in 540 minutes.
While Azaro tormented Etoile, two-goal Achraf Bencharki was the architect of a 3-1 semi-final triumph over USM Alger of Algeria following a goalless first leg.
It was a timely improvement in form for the striker, who had netted only twice in the previous 11 matches.
The Moroccan outfit have been much less impressive on the road, losing four of six matches, but only Ahly have scored more than once against a well-organised defence.
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