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Heavyweight clashes aplenty as Caf competitions reach semi-final stage

17:04 BST 25/04/2019
Mamelodi Sundowns v Al Ahly, April 2019
Some of Africa’s biggest clubs are set to collide in this weekend’s semi-finals across the continent

The Caf Champions League and Confederation Cup have reached the semi-final stage, with eight of Africa’s biggest clubs still in the running for the continent’s grandest prizes.

In the Champions League, Wydad Casablanca and Mamelodi Sundowns—both of whom advanced from the Group of Death—meet on Friday, where they’ll trade blows again after two cagey encounters earlier in the campaign.

Themba Zwane was the hero in Pretoria back in January, when Downs bounced back from their opening defeat away at Lobi Stars to win 2-1 in Pretoria.

Zwane scored twice on that occasion, while Mohamed Nahiri responded for the visitors.

Full-back Nahiri has been arguably Wydad’s star men during the tournament so far, striking the winner—from the penalty spot—as Stars were defeated in Enugu, before hitting the only goal of the game when the Moroccans hosted Pitso Mosimane’s side in Rabat in their final group game.

Neither side truly convinced during the group stage—both advanced with 10 points—but they demonstrated their championship credentials with resounding semi-final victories.

After a 0-0 draw in Conakry, Wydad progressed by thumping poor Horoya 5-0 at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium—with Nahiri again on the scoresheet—to cruise into the semis.

Sundowns’ progression was arguably more emphatic.

While they were defeated 1-0 by Africa’s club of the century Al-Ahly in Alexandria, the damage had well and truly been done after a magnificent 5-0 rout of the eight-time champions at the Lucas Masterpieces Moripe Stadium.

While Ahly were abject, Sundowns deserved all the plaudits that came their way after bossing the encounter, notably running riot in the second half.

Don’t expect another eye-catching scoreline when these two meet; having faced each other recently, there will be few surprises, and Downs, in particular, must be wary about giving away too much in the first leg and risk leaving themselves open ahead of the return game on May 4.

In the second semi, defending champions Esperance de Tunis host Tout Puissant Mazembe in Rades, knowing that a first-leg advantage will be key before the return match in Lubumbashi, where the Congolese giants boast a fearsome record.

Esperance will be confident that their experience of winning high-profile matches, their talent in the final third, and the power of their midfield will give them the edge, but injured Anice Badri represents a considerable loss.

The Tunisian giants will also be without Rami Jridi, Houcine Rabil and Mohamed Ali Yaakoubi, although there’s some optimism that captain Khalil Chammam will return in time.

While Esperance were unbeaten during the group stage—the only club to do so—their vulnerabilities were exposed in their semi-final first leg against CS Constantine, where they conceded twice in a 3-2 victory.

There’s definite firepower in this team, where Algeria’s Youcef Belaili is a mesmerising talent, but can they outgun a Mazembe side who memorably beat Club Africain 8-0 earlier in the campaign?

Even without injured frontman Ben Malango, Mazembe defeated Tanzania’s Simba SC in the quarter-finals, and the likes of Elia Meschak, Jackson Muleka and evergreen Tresor Mputu have stepped up to the plate.

Of the four semi-finalists, Les Corbeaux have been made to wait the longest for continental gold, having not won the Champions League since 2015, and they’ll be desperate to end their wait for a sixth title.

It’s an all-North African affair in the Confederation Cup, where Tunisian duo CS Sfaxien and Etoile du Sahel face RS Berkane of Morocco and Egyptian giants SC Zamalek respectively.

ESS, Confed Cup winners in 2015, only played the second leg of their quarter-final against Al-Hilal on Tuesday after political turmoil and protests in Sudan forced the postponement and then relocation of the match.

They ultimately won 2-1 in neutral Suez to advance 5-2 on aggregate.

Zamalek may most a greater pedigree than the other semi-finalists, but they only narrowly advanced past Morocco’s Hassania Agadir in the previous round, with Ibrahim Hassan scoring the only goal of the tie at the Egyptian Army Stadium.

Berkane were far more convincing as they eclipsed Kenya’s Gor Mahia 7-1—albeit in controversial circumstances—and they’ll face a much sterner test against CS Sfaxien.

Juventus of the Arabs were the only side to end the group stage unbeaten, notably taking six points from their domestic rivals ESS.