Caf Champions League wrap: Champions Esperance on the brink of elimination after Zamalek defeat

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Achraf Bencharki of Zamalek
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Last year’s winners were comfortably beaten by the Egyptian club in Friday’s quarter-final first-leg encounter in Egypt

The 2019 Caf Champions League winners Esperance de Tunis were beaten 3-1 by Zamalek in the quarter-final first-leg match at the Cairo International Stadium, Egypt, on Friday.

In what was a repeat of the Caf Super which was held on February 14, the Egyptian giants got the better of their Tunisian opponents.

The White Knights may have dominated possession in front of their fans, but the Tunis-based club had more attempts.

The away side’s superiority in attack finally paid off when Abdelraouf Benguit, scorer of their only goal two weeks ago, put the visitors in front in the 27th-minute, and it was somewhat deserved given the threat they carried whenever they had the ball.

However, their joy was short-lived with Mohamed Ounajem levelling for the hosts only four minutes later to get coach Moin Chaabani to think of his strategy for the remainder of the game.

It stayed that way until half-time, and the possession stats read 65-35 in favour of Zamalek, but Esperance edged total attempts having taken seven to the home side’s four.

Chaabani had made an alteration in the opening 45 minutes, taking off the injured Ilyes Chetti for Khalil Chemmam six minutes before his side scored, so he knew he had little wiggle room with regards to substitutions after the interval.

The 38-year-old manager seemed to instruct his side to play even deeper in the second-half, owing to how defensive they got after the break, with the defence dropping really deep, allowing the White Knights come on to them.

Zamalek created chance after chance, and their persistence was finally rewarded in the 72nd-minute when Achraf Bencharki completed the turnaround following a Mostafa Mohamed assist.

The nature of the strike got Mohamed Ali Ben Romdhane into hot water, and the midfielder received his second yellow for dissent a minute after falling behind, thus leaving his team to play the rest of the match with 10 men.

Patrice Carteron’s troops started taking even more risks in the final 15 minutes given the circumstances, and tried to add to their lead as the away rearguard retreated even more.

Just when it looked like it’d end 2-1 in Cairo, first-half substitute Chemmam was penalized for a foul in the first minute of stoppage time, giving the White Knights a chance to increase their advantage.

Mahmoud Alaa Eldin coolly slotted home from the spot to help his side to a 3-1 success, a repeat of the Super Cup result a fortnight ago, and put them in a good position heading into the second-leg.

In the other quarter-final that held on Friday, Raja Casablanca defeated Tout Puissant Mazembe 2-0 in Casablanca courtesy of goals from Ben Malango and Badr Benoun in minutes six and 29, respectively.

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The encounter at Stade Mohamed V was low on attempts – nine for the hosts, six for the away side – and the DR Congo outfit even failed to hit the target with any of their shots on the night.

 Both sides will meet in a week’s time with Esperance hosting Zamalek on Friday March 6, while TP Mazembe welcome Raja on Saturday.

The quarter-final action continues on Saturday, February 29 with Al Ahly hosting Mamelodi Sundowns and Wydad Casablanca welcoming Etoile du Sahel.