African club clashes do not come any bigger

CAF Champions League semifinal first legs scheduled for Saturday, June 19th. Photo | CAF Online
CAF Champions League semifinal first legs scheduled for Saturday, June 19th. Photo | CAF Online


Tunisian Faouzi Benzarti, the most successful African coach in CAF club competitions with five titles, faces South African rookies Arthur Zwane and Dillon Sheppard on Saturday in a Champions League semi-final.

Wydad Casablanca handler Benzarti takes 42 years of coaching experience into the first leg in Morocco with the hosts hot favourites to beat South African visitors Kaizer Chiefs.

In the other dugout will be Zwane and Sheppard, who have guided Chiefs just twice after head coach Gavin Hunt was sacked last month over poor domestic results. 

English coach Stuart Baxter has been rehired by the Soweto club, but cannot be on the touchline in Casablanca as he is awaiting a work permit.

Wydad trounced Chiefs 4-0 in a group match moved from Morocco to Burkina Faso because of coronavirus restrictions and, having qualified, fielded a reserve side in the return match, which they lost 1-0.  

Here, AFP Sport looks ahead to the first legs with title-holders and record nine-time champions Al Ahly of Egypt travelling to Tunisia for a showdown with Esperance on the same day.

Wydad v Chiefs

Virtually no one outside South Africa believes first-time semi-finalists Chiefs have a chance of reaching the final at the expense of twice champions Wydad.

Veteran Mamelodi Sundowns midfielder Hlompho Kekana begs to differ, however, having faced Wydad many times in recent seasons.

He believes that if Chiefs can shackle Wydad attackers Ayoub el Kaabi, Mohamed Ounajem and Tanzanian Simon Msuva, they can succeed where Sundowns regularly failed.

“Those three guys are tricky customers who repeatedly find space even in crowded areas. Chiefs must starve them of possession,” said Kekana.

An added incentive for Wydad to win the two-leg tie is that the single-match final will be staged in Casablanca on July 17.

Esperance v Ahly

African club clashes do not come any bigger than this one with Ahly winning a record 21 CAF titles and Esperance seven, including the Champions League four times.

The last time they met was in the 2018 Champions League final with Esperance wiping out a two-goal first leg deficit to triumph 4-3 on aggregate.

Anice Badri scored to complete a dramatic return-match comeback and could face the Cairo Red Devils again as the Tunisian Blood and Gold seek to reach a third final in four years. 

Badri hopes to score for the first time in Africa this season while five-goal Mohamed Ben Romdhane, who has attracted attention from Turkish clubs, is the most prolific Esperance marksman.

Ahly have been more impressive than Esperance en route to the penultimate stage, winning six of 10 matches and drawing three with Mohamed Sherif and Taher Mohamed netting three times each.