Wydad Casablanca 1-0 Mamelodi Sundowns: Nahiri's super-strike deprives the Brazilians of top spot
Masandawana ended their Group A campaign with a defeat, but will look for improvement going forward

A stunning strike by Mohamed Nahiri booked Wydad Casablanca’s passage into the next round of the Caf Champions League with a win over Mamelodi Sundowns.

One of Africa’s fiercest up-and-coming rivalries donned on the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat for Sundowns and Wydad's final Group A game.

With Sundowns having already booked their place in the next round, a place at the top was on offer, while for Wydad, it was win at all costs if they were to secure progression.

As expected both sets of coaches made changes, and Wydad looked to bounce back from their previous defeat to Asec Mimosas.  

Nigerian Michael Babatunde had the burden of expectations thrust upon him as he was utilised upfront, and he was supported by the ever-dangerous and Wydad’s top assists maker, Ismail El-Haddad.

For Sundowns, a number of changes were also made with qualification already in the bag, and this saw Sundowns look a tad bit shaky in the opening stages.

Wydad enjoyed the game’s first opportunity, with Denis Onyango forced into a brilliant point-blank save after Mohamed Ounajem broke free of Ricardo Nascimento and got his foot onto the end of a dangerous cross within the opening minutes of the first half.

With Wydad throwing men forward, they were leaving themselves vulnerable on the break, and although they did not have Anthony Laffor or Gaston Sirino to call upon - as the latter did not make the matchday squad - Phakamani Mahlambi almost set up Themba Zwane for the opening goal after breaking the offside trap.

However, Zwane would not register his sixth goal of the campaign as his shot flew just wide of the target.

Despite Sundowns’ rare move upfront they were struggling especially in the middle of the park with Hlompho Kekana and Tiyani Mabunda doing all the running.

The Tshwane giants were almost hurt with 20 minutes played as a mistake by Onyango put the ball on a plate for a Wydad attacker, who failed to find the opener with the goal at his mercy.

While a packed crowd in Morocco witnessed some bright moments, the caginess of the game also led to a few frustrating moments in the first half as Sundowns allowed Wydad to come at them and the away side had to remain resolute.

Onyango was certainly the busier of the two keepers as he had to produce another smart stop before the break, ensuring that Sundowns headed into the interval level.

Sundowns had never beaten the Moroccans in the own backyard, which made for a monumental task in the next 45 minutes as they defended and hoped to hit their opponents on the break.

They were certainly more assertive and using the pace of Mahlambi and Lebohang Maboe upfront. But what the duo made up in pace, they lacked in physicality and were often outmuscled by the Wydad defenders who kept a sturdy backline.

Nonetheless, it would take a something special to find the opener, and the club’s top scorer Nahiri produced just that with over an hour played as he beat Onyango with a superb long-range shot. 

It was Nahiri’s fourth goal of the campaign and perhaps the most important to date.

With Sundowns behind, this forced them to open up and go on the offensive they looked a lot livelier as they headed into the final 15 minutes where they have scored 20% of their goals in the competition this season.

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The Tshwane giants almost drew level with 10 minutes to go but the Wydad keeper Ahmed Tagnaouti produced a fantastic save to deny Nascimento’s header.

Wydad though were resolute and Sundowns failed to break them down as they registered just their second defeat in Group A.

The loss sees Wydad leapfrog Sundowns to the top of Group A, while Sundowns finish as runners-up heading into the final eight.

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