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By the skin of their teeth
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 27 - 09 - 2016

Although Zamalek of Egypt suffered a thrashing by Wydad Casablanca in Morocco on Saturday, they still qualified for the final of the Champions League final after a 14-year absence.
The five-time African champions lost 5-2 after winning the first leg of the semi-final 4-0 in Alexandria last weekend and proceeded through 6-5 on aggregate.
Zamalek will now face Mamelodi Sundowns in South Africa in the first leg of the Champions League final on 14 October.
No team had ever come back from a four-goal deficit in the semi-final of the Champions League but Wydad were ever so close. They led 5-1 with 26 minutes remaining but trailed on the away-goal rule. One more goal for the Casablanca club would have given them an overall lead, but it was Nigerian Stanley Ohawuchi who had the final say with a late second Zamalek goal.
It was an unexpected drama although it should have been a picnic after Zamalek claimed a 4-0 win in the first leg in Alexandria but the players were too confident. They were helpless all through the first half with Wydad outplaying them in every aspect of the game.
Liberian William Jebor and Congolese Fabrice Ondama scored two goals each in the game and Ismail Al-Haddad made it 3-1 for Wydad at half-time. Bassem Morsi brought one back for Zamalek at the half.
French coach Sebastien Desabre and Moroccan Mohamed Soheil, who were both in charge of Wydad following the sacking of John Toshack after the first-leg humiliation, made several changes to the team's starting line-up and the moves looked to have immediately paid off.
Zamalek's coach Moemen Suleiman said he could not solve his side's deficiencies after suffering the stunning 5-2 defeat. Suleiman complained about his team's African squad shortage, saying he was expecting a tough competition but had no tools to solve it.
“I predicted this would happen as we are in a tough situation due to shortages in the squad,” Suleiman was quoted as saying after the game.”We only have 14 registered players in the African squad. I knew the weak points in my squad but I had no way of solving them,” the Zamalek coach added.
“All we needed in the Wydad game was to score and that is what happened,” Suleiman said. “Wydad played a great game but we have to praise our achievement because we reached the final with only 14 players. I thank all the players for their effort against Wydad,” Suleiman added.
The first leg of the Champions League final will be played on 14 October while the second leg is to be played in Cairo on 21 October. These dates corner Zamalek players as half the team is to join the national team in their African qualifier match for the 2018 World Cup on 9 October against Congo in Congo. They will travel back to Egypt on the 11th and must fly the following day to Morocco to join Zamalek in their leg final.
Sundowns and Zamalek met in the group stage this year with the South African club winning twice.
Sundowns will be making their second appearance in the Champions League since their loss to Ahly of Egypt in 2001 and will look at emulating fellows Orlando Pirates who won the competition back in 1995.
Zamalek last won the competition in 2002 ago by beating another Casablanca outfit, Raja.
In the other semi-final, goals from Liberian Anthony Laffor and Percy Tau earned Sundowns a 2-0 win over Zesco United of Zambia in Pretoria and a 3-2 overall success, reversing a 2-1 away defeat to Zesco in the first leg.
Speaking after the match, an excited Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane heaped praise on his side who he believes put up a sterling performance after a taxing midweek semi-final fixture in the domestic league.
“Against all odds, we have put up yet another fantastic performance. Credit must go to my players as they showed resilience and refused to let the demanding schedule affect them. The away goal we scored in Zambia made all the difference today and that is why we settled a bit when we got the first goal,” said an elated Mosimane.
The Champions League winners will represent Africa at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan in December.


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