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Published in Ahram Online on 29 - 06 - 2021

Egyptian title holders Ahly swept to the final of the Total Energies CAF Champions League after crushing 10-man Esperance of Tunisia 3-0 to win 4-0 on aggregate.
The defending champions, aiming for a record-extending 10th African Champions League crown, will meet South Africa's Kaizer Chiefs in the final on 17 July in Morocco.
Meanwhile, Pyramids, also of Egypt, lost a golden chance to reach the final in another tournament after losing on penalty shots to Raja Casablanca of Morocco in the continent's second tier club football championship, the Confederation Cup,
A penalty for left back Ali Maaloul opened the scoring for Ahly on Saturday before second half goals from Mohamed Sherif and Hussein Al-Shahat cemented the victory for the home side at the Al-Salam Stadium in Cairo.
Esperance were down to 10 men after their defender Ilyes Cheti was sent off in the first half for bringing down Mohamed Taher in the penalty box.
Ahly took the lead in the 38th minute from the penalty spot after a lengthy VAR check. Cheti was adjudged to have brought down Taher inside the box as the last defender and referee Alioum Alioum gave the penalty and sent the defender early to the showers.
In the second half, Ahly had the upper hand and within four minutes had sealed the victory. Sherif swept the ball home with a first time finish inside the box after a stunning pass from Mohamed Magdi Afsha.
Four minutes later, the home side were 3-0 up, but not before another VAR check. Afsha picked out Al-Shahat with a peach of a pass planted behind the defence, the latter doing the easiest of tasks of sweeping the ball home.
Ahly had won the first leg in Tunisia 1-0, the sole goal scored by Sherif.
In the other semi-final, South African giants Kaizer Chiefs held their nerves for a barren draw against Wydad Club Athletic to qualify for their first ever Total Energies CAF Champions League final with a 1-0 aggregate.
Having won by a solitary goal in the first leg in Casablanca a week earlier, AmaKhosi, as Kaizer is known, which means "Lords" or "Chiefs" in Zulu, just needed a draw in the return fixture at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg and they did just that, to secure a place in the finale.
The visitors kept knocking on the Chiefs door, but nothing worked for them as they couldn't find the perfect finish to get at least a goal off the match.
Kaizer Chiefs boss Arthur Zwane has admitted that his side will not be the favourites to win the African Champions League trophy when they face Ahly in the final, but said they will give their all to make history.
They will have a tough time playing against nine-time African champions Ahly who have qualified for the final for a record-extending 14th time.
"We are going there knowing again we will be underdogs," Zwane told the club's official website. "But we have three and a half weeks to prepare thoroughly. It was never going to be an easy journey for us, we knew it was going to be tough to compete against the best teams in Africa."
Pitso Mosimane, Ahly's South African head coach, expressed his happiness after reaching the CAF Champions League final. "We didn't start the game very well. We were a little bit nervous and anxious. However, football is not about how you start, but it is about how to finish. We have to be honest, the red card helped us. It happened early, and it was well deserved. Using VAR in the games is a very positive thing, as it preserves all the teams' rights. There are some mistakes that the referees cannot see during the game, just as what happened with Hussein Al-Shahat's goal. Esperance is a big team and we respect them a lot, but after conceding the first goal, the game was further complicated on them. I am so glad that I reached the final with Ahly for the second consecutive year."
On the final match, Mosimane, 56, said Kaizer Chiefs "is one of the biggest teams in South Africa in terms of popularity. They are a good team, and you just have to respect them. It won't be an easy match but we will work hard to add the 10th title."
"I am very happy that we were able to win," Al-Shahat, Ahly's winger, said. "I would like to congratulate everyone who is associated with the club. Our target is to win the title. We were able to win both legs of the semi-finals. Hopefully, we will be able to win the final and win the title."
Meantime, Pyramids failed to reach the African Confederation Cup final after losing in a 5-4 shootout loss away to Morocco's Raja following a 0-0 aggregate draw in the semis on Sunday.
Pyramids wasted two chances to win on penalties while Anas Zniti saved for Raja. Zniti's trailing foot stuck out to block Hamdi Mohamed's penalty as the Moroccan side progressed to the final.
The game was forced to penalties after a second successive barren stalemate in Casablanca, the two sides having also played to a 0-0 draw in the first leg in Cairo last week. It had to take eight penalties before a winner was picked out in the tense encounter at the Stade Mohamed V.
Raja's win sets up a final meeting with Algeria's JS Kabylie who crushed Cameroon's Coton Sport 5-1 on aggregate.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 July, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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