Happy Mashiane's red card seems the obvious incident to point out in the aftermath of Al Ahly’s 3-0 win over Kaizer Chiefs in Saturday’s Caf Champions League final, owing to how the rest of the game panned out.
The midfielder saw red on the stroke of half-time and Pitso Mosimane’s team ran riot in the second 45 minutes. It had stayed goalless up until the 23-year-old’s dismissal and, in that context, observers with allegiance to the Amakhosi feel it changed the course of the game.
“We couldn’t follow the plan that we’ve had. The red card turned out to be the killer; I had to change the game,” Chiefs boss Stuart Baxter remarked post-match. “In the second half, they put the gas to the floor, the same time we had the handbrake on.
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"It was a good performance by Al Ahly, but shame for us we had to deal with a red card.”
Dylan Kerr, manager of South African club Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila, hinted that the forward’s sending off gave the continental giants the advantage.
“Sending off did not help for Kaizer [Chiefs], it was the turning point, it killed the fighting spirit by Chiefs and Al Ahly took advantage,” the Maltese-born coach told Goal. “It would have been a better game in the second period, but then Mashiane was sent off.”
In fairness, it feels overly simplistic to attribute Ahly’s win to the red card, owing to how dominant Mosimane’s team were in the opening 45.
Of course, the dismissal opened up the game after half-time, but Chiefs had been disappointing throughout their first Champions League final.
They ceded territory to the Red Devils, allowed the favourites to fashion out promising situations from wide positions and offered very little when they had the ball. Perhaps, the latter should exacerbate Baxter’s disappointment.
The South African side struggled to string passes together when they won possession and their counter-attacks lacked any sort of plan or purpose.
Chiefs could muster only one attempt in the first half to the Egyptian outfit’s six, thus demonstrating Ahly’s dominance and the debutants expertise or low-quality showing in possession.
Amakhosi owed the goalless half to the 10-time Champions’ disappointing play when they worked the ball into promising situations, particularly out wide.
Taking advantage of the SA outfit’s narrow defensive shape, Pitso’s troops isolated their man in wide positions on several occasions but struggled to pick out the right pass, cut-back or cross.
On other occasions, Daniel Akpeyi smothered balls sent into his zone.
While having the extra man made Baxter’s men easier to play through, Ahly’s superiority beforehand makes it rather simplistic to put the result down to Mashiane’s poor challenge. Nobody can say for sure that Chiefs would have improved after half-time; that assumption is rather thin.
Egypt great Ahmed Hassan’s blunt assessment of the South African side was perhaps condescending, but the logic of his appraisal was sound.
“Al Ahly win came after a lot of hard work, the final was easy, but the journey to the final was very difficult,” Hassan told ONTime Sports TV per Kingfut. “Al Ahly respect all the teams they play against, but I don’t know how Kaizer Chiefs could reach the final, they have very limited resources.
“With Al Ahly possessing the ball, we did not doubt that they will score eventually.”
For Mosimane, the South African boss deserves acclaim for masterminding yet another continental triumph. Even though he has endured criticism by a section of the club’s fans, successive Caf CL titles is an impressive feat.
Africa’s biggest club have secured the honour 10 times, five more than Zamalek and TP Mazembe, and will back themselves to win an 11th next year. It was Pitso who ended the club’s seven-year drought on the continent in 2020, their longest wait without the title since their 14-year famine between 1987 and 2001.
After two final losses in 2017 and 2018, the brilliant manager has now succeeded in taking the giants to the continental game's pinnacle. Not once, but twice.
“We feel good. We made a promise to win the tenth cup and we have delivered the tenth cup. I must say congratulations to the boys, who have done very well," a pleased Mosimane stated after the resounding win. "We have not arrived where I want the team to come to.
"There is a lot of improvement that needs to be done. We have to strengthen the team to make it stronger, especially because we want to do well in the Fifa Club World Cup."
Of course, one has to wonder what happens next for the former Mamelodi Sundowns manager. He has seemingly reached the apex of the African game and there’s, by and large, no greater challenge than managing Al Ahly.
For now, though, Jingles can bask in the glory of leading the Red Devils to a 10th Champions League success.
Mashiane’s dismissal weakened Chiefs in Saturday’s final, but it was hard to see any other winner owing to Ahly’s superiority beforehand. The Amakhosi must learn how to handle the big occasions much, much better than they did at the weekend.