Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba struck a stoppage-time winner as SC Zamalek were defeated 1-0 by RS Berkane in the first-leg of the Confederation Cup final played at the Stade Municipal in Morocco on Sunday.
The Egyptian outfit had come into the game on a nine-game undefeated run, wherein they’d kept no less than seven clean sheets, but were condemned to defeat at the death following a fine close-range effort from the Togo international.
Their strength at the Stade Municipal had seen them win six and draw one of seven games throughout the competition, scoring 21 times and conceding just three.
In the first 45 minutes, Berkane pinned the visitors back, dominating possession and creating sporadic shooting opportunities.
However, the hosts couldn’t get the ball past Zamalek third-choice stopper Omar Salah, who was in goal due to Mahmoud Abdel Rahim’s sending off in the semi-final second-leg and an injury to deputy Emad el Sayad.
Their best opportunities fell to Laba, who hit the post on two occasions, in the 15th minute and 42nd minute of the game, as it remained level at the interval, with the White Knights struggling to create clear-cut chances.
Christian Gross’ side sought to limit the threat of the hosts after the break and resorted to slowing down the game in the first 15 minutes after the restart. Omar El Said was consequently booked in the 51st minute for what was considered an intentional act to waste precious time.
The Swiss manager’s side did contain the Oranges better after the break and even carried a greater threat going forward as they picked their moments to break forward.
They did fashion out a golden opportunity in the 67th minute when they swept forward in a quick counter attack, but Mahmoud Kahraba – whose goal settled the semi-final against Etoile de Sahel – contrived to put his effort way wide of the target with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Two minutes later, the first real controversy played out when Berkane players claimed there was a handball in the Zamalek penalty area. After incessant remonstrations by Mounir Jaouani’s players, the official checked out replays of the incident, before deeming it not enough to award a penalty.
Gross’ side kept the Oranges at bay from that point on, with Salah in goal often coming to the rescue to prevent any sort of danger, before a late onslaught by Jaouani’s troops ensued.
Laba had a header expertly saved by the young Zamalek stopper in the final minute of normal time, with the impressive stand-in’s heroics seemingly primed to set Zamalek up for the reverse fixture in Alexandria in a week’s time.
However, the Togolese forward’s strike deep into stoppage time – his eight of the competition – broke Zamalek hearts and they now have to overturn the deficit if they’re to claim a first Confederation Cup title.
For Berkane, the win was no less than they deserved after their unrelenting display on home turf.
Having made it into their first ever continental final, they are now within touching distance of claiming the title if they can hold out in Alexandria next week.