After a quartet of pulsating semi-final ties, the eight clubs still standing in Caf’s club competitions will become four this weekend.
Unlike in the quarter-finals, where there were a series of eye-catching scorelines and emphatic victories, the Champions League semi-final first legs were cagey affairs.
Wydad Casablanca and Mamelodi Sundowns both secured 5-0 home victories in their quarters, the former dispatching Guinea’s Horoya and the latter demolishing Al-Ahly in one of the greatest results in the club’s history.
They’d already met in the group stage, where Downs defeated WAC 2-0 in Pretoria, before the Moroccans gained a measure of revenge with a 1-0 victory in Rabat in the reverse match.
The first leg of their semi-final was a similarly tight affair, with Salaheddine Saidi and Badie Aouk scoring for the North Africans either side of Anele Ngcongca’s effort for the Brazilians.
While Wydad take a one-goal advantage to the Lucas Masterpieces Moripe Stadium, they’ll be wary of the home form of Pitso Mosimane’s side, who are level on points with Orlando Pirates at the top of the PSL table with two games to go.
Surely, the Brazilians will be quietly confident that, even if they only recreate a portion of the attacking venom they demonstrated against Ahly, it’ll be enough to progress.
Ahead of the match, Mosimane has lauded wideman Themba Zwane, Wydad’s nemesis in the group stage, and Sundowns’ star man of the campaign to date.
"Themba is not an orthodox winger who sprints down the touchline and crosses the ball,” Mosimane told journalists, as per SuperSport. “We allow him to operate wherever he wants to. He reminds me of [Andres] Iniesta.
"I doubt they will sit back and try to force a goalless draw,” Mosimane continued. “Wydad can score in away games and we have to find a way of keeping them quiet."
In the other semi-final, Tout Puissant Mazembe find themselves in a similar position to Sundowns.
They were defeated 1-0 in the first leg against Esperance—when the outstanding Youcef Belaili netted the only goal of the game—but their imperious home form makes them favourites (just) to progress.
Les Corbeaux will be without Zambian defender Kabaso Chongo, who’s suspended after a red card in the first leg, but they’re boosted by the return to fitness of striking dangerman Ben Malango.
As Zwane has been an inspiration for Sundowns, so veteran Tresor Mputu has inspired Mazembe to reach the final four of the continent’s top club competition.
He’s rolled back the years to get the best out of wonderkid frontman Jackson Muleka, and they have the attacking flair to pick apart the Tunisians’ backline.
In the Caf Confederation Cup semis, both of which will take place on Sunday, RS Berkane and Etoile du Sahel will hope to overturn first-leg deficits at home against CS Sfaxien and SC Zamalek respectively.
Moroccans Berkane are in a tough spot after falling to a 2-0 defeat in Sfax following first-leg goals from Alaeddine Marzouki and Hamza Mathlouthi, although they’ll take some encouragement from their magnificent home performance against Kenya’s Gor Mahia in the quarter-final, when they ran out emphatic 5-1 victors.
In Tunisia, ESS’s clash with Zamalek could be the match of the weekend, with everything to play for after Mahmoud Kahraba scored the only goal of the game for the White Knights in the first leg.
Zamalek are without influential Tunisia midfielder Ferjani Sassi—a concern for the Eagles of Carthage ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations—while Morocco’s Khalid Boutaib and full-back Hazem Emam are also set to miss out.
Zamalek have won five Champions League titles, but are on a mission to win their first Confederation Cup.